‘I don’t want to be on insulin’: Concerns rise over increase in diabetes in Alberta

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Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases affecting people living in Canada and diagnoses continue to be on the rise. In Alberta, an expert panel is now working on ways to lower the risk of severe outcomes and the strain on the health-care system in the years ahead.

Like many people, Grace Oben started working from home during the pandemic. The Calgary life coach gained more than 60 pounds.

On her doctor’s advice, Oben dropped the pops and processed food from her diet and started exercising every day.

“It was difficult because it was something that I wasn’t doing but I understood what was needed. It was either I do something about it or it will be having a conversation about being on medication,” Oben said.

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Concerns over lack of details, increased costs around changes to Alberta’s Type 1 diabetes insulin pump coverage

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“I don’t want to be on insulin. I don’t think anyone enjoys being on that, so I had to do something so I started straight away.”

A Manulife report released last fall shows a growing number of younger Canadian workers seeking treatment for diabetes.

“A lot of them are coming in with obesity diabetes and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Yvonne Kangong, a Calgary family physician and obesity medicine specialist.

“I would think it’s because during COVID people were just homebound with easy access to the fridge. People were scared of going out for fear of catching COVID.

“People felt like it was doomsday and we were just not motivated to do anything,” Kangong said.

Click to play video: 'Changes to Alberta's Type 1 diabetes insulin pump coverage trigger concern over lack of details, increased costs'

Changes to Alberta’s Type 1 diabetes insulin pump coverage trigger concern over lack of details, increased costs

She’s seen an increase in obesity since the pandemic, but also she’s on a mission to get rid of the stigma that comes with being overweight.

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“It’s not motivating and then there’s that blame and shame. It breaks my heart because obesity is a chronic medical condition. It’s time to put an end to ‘the eat less move more’” Kangong said.

An Alberta diabetes working group held it’s first meeting recently to find ways to improve diabetes care.

“Each year, the number of Albertans diagnosed with diabetes increases and this trend is concerning. Finding ways to more effectively prevent, screen for and treat this serious, chronic condition is critical. With the group’s expertise and experience, and the insights gathered through this review, we can establish a way forward that better meets the needs of Albertans at risk for and living with diabetes,” said Jason Copping, Alberta’s minister of health in a statement in February .

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Over 400,000 Albertans have been diagnosed with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and that number is expected to increase to 573,000 in less than a decade.

The diabetes working group will share its recommendations with the health minister by fall this fall..

Kangong is looking forward to seeing the recommendations from the working group and hopes the cost of diabetes medication is being addressed.

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“A lot of those patients can’t afford the medications. I’ve had patients who skipped doses of their medication just to stretch it,” Kangong said.

“Government as a whole has to work on policies that would help people with diabetes and more money for research and treatment.”

Click to play video: 'New research into Type 2 diabetes'

New research into Type 2 diabetes

Kangong says policies aimed at prevention like promoting increased physical activity in school kids and creating walkable communities and free recreation programs are important.

Kangong and Oben are organizing an event in Calgary on March 18, aimed at women’s health and nutrition to help encourage people to make changes to what they eat.

As for Oben’s health, her weight has dropped since changing her lifestyle.

“I didn’t just walk. I started dancing with YouTube videos of Afrobeat exercise workouts,” she said with a laugh.

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“My legs were so late, but I understood that I needed to do it. I made the choice to be healthy so I had to put in the work and make it look like fun so that I could keep going. We can create our fun,” Oben said.

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