‘Prevention is in your hands’: Humber hosts event on diabetes in young people

Mar 6, 2024 | Campus News, Headlines, News

By Sam Belton, David Madureira

When Dr. Vanita Varma welcomed guests to this week’s Health Innovation Challenge event she talked about an urgent need to tackle the rise in diabetes cases.

“More than ever, we have this pressing issue of increasing rates of pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes in our community, and it’s getting younger,” Varma said.

She said 10 per cent of Canadians aged 20 and older have been diagnosed with diabetes.

“These numbers are serious, alarming, and continue to rise,” Varma said.

A woman speaks at a podium at an event.
Dr. Vanita Varma, director of Humber’s Centre for Innovation in Health and Wellness, speaks at the Health Innovation Challenge at Humber College’s North campus on March 5, 2024. Photo credit: David Madureira

Humber’s Centre for Innovation in Health & Wellness brought together students from 16 different programs to design product concept ideas to show students how they can prevent prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

She said the event was a good way to engage students in a conversation about diabetes. She said it is important for students to realize the disease can start much earlier in life than expected, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Prevention is your hands. So, please make sure that you are educating yourself, [and] engaging in the healthy behaviours,” Varma said.

The event was held Tuesday at the Barrett Centre for Technology Innovation and featured a panel of diabetes educators.

“We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, the director at Novo Nordisk Network for Healthy Populations at the University of Toronto.

In 2018, there was more than a threefold increase in diagnosed diabetes cases to 3.4 million Canadians. In 2022, it was 3.7 million Canadians, almost 10 per cent of the population, Lipscombe said.

But she added those numbers do not include prediabetes and undiagnosed diabetes. With the rest included, it is about 12 million Canadians affected, or almost 1 in 3.

She says the biggest risk factor is obesity, caused by people’s easy access to shelf-stable, high-calorie foods, and their ability to move around without much physical activity.

While diabetes is often seen in older people, younger people are being affected and diagnosed – or affected, but not diagnosed.

“The world has seen an increase in the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes in those aged 20 to 39 – and that is concerning,” Lipscombe said.

Diabetes Canada said behaviours that can reduce your risk of diabetes are increasing physical activity and healthy eating.

But Diya Diya, a Humber student in the Bachelor of Design program who participated in the health innovation challenge, struggles to afford healthier food on campus.

“The only thing I can afford is the pizza slice because it’s like $5. I will opt for [a] pizza slice [rather] than like the sandwich,” Diya said because healthier options such as organic food and sandwiches are not affordable.

Varma said that she feels bad for students who cannot afford healthy food, acknowledging it is expensive.

The panellists spoke about how diabetes disproportionately affects Indigenous, South-Asian and Black Canadians, as well as lower-income people.

Other factors that can cause diabetes are genetics, age, ethnicity, and household, community, and national factors.

But Lipscombe said it is important not to blame individuals.

“It’s not just an individual responsibility, especially when we’re fighting against these vast changes in our societal conditions that are making it difficult for people to engage in healthy behaviour,” Lipscombe said.