Inflation and a lack of access to healthy foods could add to a growing diabetes epidemic in Manitoba, the Canadian Diabetes Association warns.
Numbers from the association predict by the end of 2016 that 121,000 Manitobans will be living with diabetes, a jump from 116,000 in 2015 and 103,000 in 2012.
Food costs across the country have soared, particularly for fruits and vegetables. The University of Guelph predicted in its 2016 Food Prices Report retail food prices in Canada will increase by an average of two to four per cent this year.
It's a double whammy that creates more barriers for low-income individuals who are already at greater risk of developing the chronic disease, explained Andrea Kwasnicki, regional director of the CDA for Manitoba.
"If you are living in an environment so to speak or in a tax bracket where your social or economic status is not able to afford those healthy food choices, you are going to go to the easy fixes like the pastas, the heavy starches that fill the belly," Kwasnicki said. "Obesity is one of the highest risk factors of developing Type 2 diabetes, and what happens in some of the less privileged communities is they are eating convenient foods versus a salad, their obesity rate is going to increase, putting them at a higher risk."
Diabetes reduces life expectancy by five to 15 years and is estimated to cost the province $562 million annually in direct costs such as hospitalization and indirect costs such as medication and doctor's visits, according to the association.
Manitoba has one of the highest obesity rates west of Quebec, reports Statistics Canada's Community Health Survey, with a 24.5 per cent obesity prevalence rate for adults. The national average is 20 per cent. British Columbia and Ontario's rates are 16 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively.
An analysis of health indicators from the Peg, a non-profit partnership that monitors Winnipeg's well-being, shows lower-income areas in the city have a greater prevalence of diabetes than the rest of the city. Inkster, downtown and Point Douglas have diabetes-prevalence rates of 12.9, 13.2 and 11.7 per cent, respectively. Meanwhile, River Heights, Fort Garry and Assiniboine South rates sit at 7.5, 7.8 and 7.1 per cent, respectively, according to the organization headed by the International Institute of Sustainable Development and United Way of Winnipeg.
Increased food costs mean more cost barriers for low-income families when it comes to purchasing healthy foods, which can lead to a variety of health problems including diabetes, explained Heather Block, the director of strategic initiatives with United Way.
"The choices are already impacted. Often folks on a fixed or limited income already may have to pay a disproportionate amount for housing. Budget dollars that might go to food go to housing," Block said. "If you are already on a shoestring budget and already needing to rely on the food banks, all of that adds to it."
Coupled with rising costs is the lack of access to grocery stores, with residents in Point Douglas and downtown living in "food deserts" where easy access to a grocery store or farmers market is limited, Block said.
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Manitoba's high prevalence of diabetes is also associated with its large aboriginal population, which is also at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes due to socio-economic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
In the city's northwest, the non-profit co-operative NorWest Co-op Community Health looks to help increase awareness of healthy eating through a variety of methods and programs. One example is the traditional cooking class held at the co-op's food centre. The agency also provide counselling, primary health care and a mobile diabetes screening for the Inkster area.
NorWest has looked at addressing barriers by organizing a farmers market every Thursday at Blake Gardens Neighbourhood Resource Centre, which sells fresh vegetables at a subsidized price.
"We sell fruits and vegetables at a lower cost than at the grocery story, so if they only need to buy a couple carrots or small quantities of some of those important foods that we know are good for our health," said Shannon Milks, the co-op's chronic disease co-ordinator.
"Economic factors, genetics, there are lots of different factors to the increase in prevalence that obviously affect one's ability to manage their health condition, stay healthy, so those are all big pieces that our health centre tries to address, all those determinants of health."
By the numbers
Manitobans living with diabetes by year:
2016 -- 121,000 (projected)
2015 -- 116,000
2014 -- 112,000
2013 -- 107,500
2012 -- 103,000
Estimated cases of diabetes (among age group 1-19):
2016 -- 1,670 (projected)
2015 -- 1,610
2014 -- 1,560
2013 -- 1,470
2012 -- 1,430
Canada-wide diabetes rates:
2016 -- 3.5 million (projected)
2015 -- 3.3 million
2014 -- 3.2 million
2013 -- 3.0 million
2012 -- 2.9 million
*About five to 10 per cent of all cases are Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, which is when the body does not produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is when your body does not use insulin properly and typically affects adults.