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Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or when it cannot use it effectively. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, nerve damage, eye damage, lower-limb amputations and premature death1.

According to the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System (CCDSS), about 3.4 million Canadians were living with diabetes in 2017–2018, compared to 1.3 million in 2000–20011. Diabetes Canada estimates that by 2025, 5 million people (12% of the population) will have diabetes2. Around the world, the numbers are similarly gloomy.

There are different types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, gestational and other types. Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90% of cases in Canada and is largely preventable by modifying risk factors such as obesity and overweight, pre-diabetes, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating habits and high blood pressure or cholesterol3. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 9% of cases and occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. Gestational diabetes affects some women during pregnancy and usually goes away after delivery. Other types of diabetes are rare and include genetic forms or those caused by other diseases or medications.

Managing diabetes can be challenging for many Canadians. It requires regular monitoring of blood sugar levels, taking medications or insulin therapy as prescribed by a health care provider, following a healthy diet and exercise plan and coping with stress and emotional issues. Diabetes can also affect one’s mental health outcomes as people with diabetes are more likely to experience depression or anxiety than those without1.

The good news is that there are many resources available to help Canadians with diabetes live healthy lives while working to find a cure. Diabetes Canada is one of the leading organizations that provides diabetes education, research, advocacy and support services across the country4. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) also publishes useful information on how to prevent and manage diabetes on its website5 6. In addition, PHAC supports chronic disease surveillance systems that monitor changes in diabetes patterns over time to inform programs and policies1.

Diabetes is a growing challenge for Canada but it is not an insurmountable one. By working together as individuals, communities and governments we can reduce the burden of this disease on our healthcare system and improve the quality of life for millions of Canadians living with or at risk of developing diabetes.

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