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Len Flett, vice-president of The North West Company, was in Inuvik on Saturday to announce a new partnership with Health Canada to work together with the North Mart, schools and community to help raise awareness toward diabetes. - Terry Halifax/NNSL photo

Government, business takes on diabetes

Partnership hopes to curb spread among aboriginal people

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 09/03) - A new partnership between government and business hopes to turn the tide on a national epidemic of diabetes among aboriginal people.

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  • Diabetes is an imbalance in body insulin.
  • Insulin is needed to convert sugar from food into energy.
  • In Type One diabetes, too little or no insulin is produced. With Type Two diabetes, the body cannot use all the insulin produced.
  • Nine of 10 people who have diabetes have type two.
  • Health Canada warns that aboriginal people are at greater risk of developing Type Two diabetes.
  • In the past aboriginal people led active lives, working and eating from the land, but changes in lifestyle and diet in recent years have made Canada's original people much more susceptible to diabetes.
  • More than 2 million people in Canada have diabetes and complications from diabetes accounts for the death of 5,500 Canadians each year.

  • Western Arctic Liberal MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Len Flett, vice-president of The North West Company, and Nellie Cournoyea, president and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, along with other dignitaries, announced details of a new program last Saturday at the NorthMart store in Inuvik.

    The partnership is designed to foster greater awareness toward diabetes and, more specifically, Type Two diabetes.

    Flett said the company has started the Healthy Living Program which tags healthy foods with a label to indicate a better dietary choice.

    "It's to help our customers to choose healthier foods, that are lower fat, lower in sugar and higher in nutritional content," Flett said.

    As well, Flett said they have been using a spare change coin box program, and local marathons have raised $200,000 for community programs.

    The new partnership with Health Canada will distribute information along with another new program called Healthy Living Rewards -- a pilot program in Inuvik and other selected communities. Reward points accumulated through healthy product living sales will go to community schools who can redeem the points through the purchase of sports equipment, computers or other needed equipment.

    Ethel can relate

    Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew spoke on behalf of the federal government and thanked The North West Company for helping raise awareness to diabetes.

    "It is one of the fastest-growing diseases in the country and one of the easiest to prevent," she said.

    "It is the leading cause of heart disease, blindness and leg amputations."

    "Too many of us are facing health risks due to our lack of physical activity," she said.

    "I have had to change my whole lifestyle, because of Type Two diabetes."

    Health Canada will help The North West Company to produce and distribute about 90,000 pamphlets to Inuit, First Nation and Metis people.

    They've also earmarked $58 million to fund the aboriginal diabetes initiative -- a five-year national strategy between provinces, territories and communities.

    Nellie Cournoyea, president of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and chair of the Inuvik Regional Health and Social Services Authority, said healthy diet choices are not easy or affordable choices to make in remote communities.

    "In the end, it always comes down to the cost of transportation," Cournoyea said, but added that food mail and other cost savings in transporting food has helped significantly.

    Blondin-Andrew said she now exercises up to five times a week and watches what she eats.

    She said it's never too late to change to healthier habits, but encourages people to adopt those habits young.

    "I learned the hard way; I was told I had diabetes and I thought, 'Well, I've had cancer, so I guess diabetes is not that bad.' "