A presenter at the annual Diabetes Expo in Timmins Oct. 1 and 2 had some dire warnings for students attending his workshop.
“This is the first generation of Canadian children that will not outlive their parents,” said Chris Johnson, who also has diabetes. “This is the first time in history that this will happen and part of it is due to an inactive lifestyle.”
To counter diabetes, he said it’s important to make sure kids are active.
“We have to work like hell to get kids up and off their butts and to be physically active.”
Johnson, a public speaker known as Dr. Laugh, held six workshops on the first day of the Diabetes Expo.
He spoke to youth about the importance of humour, self esteem, respect, team building, sport and physical education in regards to healthy child development.
The two-day event featured youth programs, public workshops, health care and cooking demonstrations, guest speakers and children’s activities. The first day focused on local school children from the Timmins area, including a group from the Mattagami First Nation.
First Nation health care organizations played an important role in organizing and supporting the annual event and for good reason.
About 20 per cent of the Aboriginal population live with diabetes and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is three to five times the national average.
Non-Native and First Nation health care professionals and community organizers pooled their resources and energies in staging the expo with the strategy of providing as much information as possible about diabetes in an exciting, entertaining and educational way.
Close to 300 elementary school students took part. They came from St. Paul Elementary, Pinecrest Elementary and W. Earle Miller School in Timmins and from the Mary Jane Naveau Memorial School in Mattagami First Nation. They participated in physical activity workshops and healthy snack demonstrations .
“We want to start early to teach children healthy eating habits and physical activity,” said Claudia Gorenko, a registered dietician at Porcupine Health Unit.
Jake Sarazin, principal of Mary Jane Naveau Memorial School in Mattagami First Nation, accompanied six students from his community to take part in the expo.
“It is very important for our children to learn about the disease of diabetes,” said Sarazin. “There is a high incidence of this disease in the Native community so it is good to educate our children so that they can make good choices.”
Elizabeth Etherington who is originally from Attawapiskat First Nation shared her story as a diabetic. Etherington, who works with the Timmins Native Friendship Centre’s Lifelong Care Program, has lived with type 2 diabetes for the past 14 years.
“I was diagnosed in 1996 and at first I did not accept having this disease and I lived in denial of my condition for many years,” said Etherington.
She explained part of her motivation to change her diet came from learning more about her cultural past through healing lodge ceremonies and the guidance of traditional people.
“Instead of sugar drinks, I began having water more often because I realized this was something our Creator had given us,” said Etherington. “It was natural and it came from the land. I learned that one of the ways to stay healthy was to eat more natural foods like our people did in the past.”
Since January she lost 25 pounds and has managed to bring her diabetes under control through a more natural and moderate diet with plenty of exercise.
Karen Sutherland, also of the Timmins Native Friendship Centre and a Diabetes Expo committee member, explained diabetes awareness and healthy lifestyles is a critical message for Aboriginal people.
“I think it is important for us to have events such as this, especially for our children,” Sutherland said. “We have to teach our youth about diabetes because they will be impacted the most by this disease. It is our responsibility now to make sure that they have all guidance they need for the future.”
Diabetes is on the rise and a report in early September released by the Canadian Diabetes Association detailed the growing number of Ontarians affected by diabetes.
According to the report, about 1.2 million people in Ontario were diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes in 2010, or about 8.3 per cent of the population. The number of people with diabetes in Ontario is expected to rise in the next decade to account for almost 12 per cent of the population by 2020.
Across the country, First Nation leaders, health care organizations and health professionals are actively involved in programs to prevent and treat diabetes.
The high rate of diabetes in First Nations predisposes Aboriginal people living with this disease to higher rates of heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, amputations and infectious disease, expo organizers said.
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