British Columbians urged to assess Type 2 diabetes risk

Local politicians and health officials are asking people to take a free online test to determine if they could, or already do, have diabetes or prediabetes. The number of people with the disease is expected to rise during the next decade.

Diabetes Canada says there are 1.5 million people living with diabetes or prediabetes in the province

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson takes a diabetes risk assessment at city hall on Friday, Nov. 2017. The city is working to help people treat underlying factors as diagnoses are expected to rise. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Local politicians and health officials in B.C. are asking people to assess their risk for diabetes as the number of people with the disease is expected to rise during the next decade.

"We need to be taking action on this and prevention is really crucial for diabetes," said Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson on Friday at city hall.

Tuesday is World Diabetes Day. The City of Vancouver will offer free risk assessments at 10 community centres.

According to Diabetes Canada, those who have the disease either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood.

Diabetes leads to high blood sugar levels, which can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. The body needs insulin to use sugar as an energy source.

Prediabetes refers to blood glucose levels that are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes.

Risk factors for diabetes include having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight, along with your family history.

Diabetes Canada says nearly 50 per cent of those with prediabetes will go on to develop Type 2 diabetes.

"We want to make sure we're doing the prevention side of this," said Robertson. "It can be a silent killer — people don't even know unless they're diagnosed."

There are 1.5 million people living with diabetes or prediabetes in British Columbia, says Diabetes Canada, while seven per cent of Vancouver's population has diabetes.

That number is projected to increase to 10 per cent over the next decade. In Vancouver, 30 per cent of people currently living with diabetes are undiagnosed.

Mary Clare Zak, Vancouver's managing director of social policy, says that may come as a surprise for some because the city is often associated with healthy lifestyles.

'There are concerns'

"But there are concerns around pockets of neighbourhoods," Zak said, citing low-income areas of the city as well as those with high numbers of elderly people.

She says the provincial health costs to deal with diabetes is $418 million per year.

Solutions include increasing better access to healthy foods, exercise and outdoor spaces.

"All of these things that make us well as people," she said.