Richard Fecteau

By Richard Fecteau

April 19, 2021


Diabetes: a disease that’s on the rise

According to the World Health Organization, the number of people with diabetes has practically quadrupled since 1980. What’s more, WHO estimates that the current number of people with diabetes could almost double by 2030. Why is the prevalence of this disease continuing to increase? Is there a way to slow it down? Here are a few thoughts on the topic.

What is diabetes?

The main source of energy in our bodies is glucose, a sugar that is produced in part by our bodies but is primarily sourced from our diet. To enable the various cells in our bodies to use glucose, we need insulin, a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. Without insulin, sugar can’t be absorbed by the tissues in our bodies so it accumulates in our blood. This condition is called hyperglycemia, which is an excessive concentration of blood sugar that can cause serious health problems.

What causes diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes, caused by different factors.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease caused by a genetic mutation that results in our immune system attacking and destroying the pancreas cells that produce insulin. People with this disease are unable to produce insulin and must rely on injections to compensate.

Type 2 diabetes develops gradually and is strongly associated with our lifestyle habits. The bodies of people with type 2 diabetes continue to produce insulin, but in insufficient quantities. Also, their bodies resist the effects of insulin, limiting the capacity of cells to bind to it, which causes blood sugar levels to climb.

Nearly 90% of people with diabetes have this type.1 The obesity epidemic and our increasingly sedentary lifestyle are the two risk factors which seem to be the reason why type 2 diabetes is continuing to be more prevalent globally.1

Did you know?
According to WHO, an estimated 85% of type 2 diabetes cases could be prevented with the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits.1

What complications may result from diabetes?

The complications of diabetes can have a serious impact on a person’s physical, mental and sexual health. They include:

Vision loss

During their lifetime, just under 50% of people with type 2 diabetes will experience a moderate to total loss of vision (blindness).

Nerve damage

About 40 to 50% of people with diabetes will experience nerve damage due to exposure to high blood sugar levels.These changes result in numbness, tingling, pain and – in certain cases – amputation.

Kidney disease

Between 20 and 40% of people with diabetes will develop kidney disease during their lifetime.Ultimately, it may even lead to complete renal failure.

Cardiovascular disease

People with diabetes have a three times greater risk of suffering from a cardiovascular disease (heart attack, aneurysm, angina, etc.) and a two to four times greater risk of death than people without diabetes.

Erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction1 affects 40% of men with diabetes.

Mental health

Certain symptoms of depression affect 30% of people with diabetes, while 10% of them experience major depression.

It is important for people with diabetes to stay in control of their condition. If not, these complications are much more likely to develop.

Did you know?
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney disease and non-traumatic lower limb amputations in Canada.1

What can you do to prevent or manage diabetes?

In addition to following the prescribed treatment, adopting healthy lifestyle habits is an essential part of preventing and treating type 2 diabetes. The following are some examples of effective habits for fighting diabetes.

Eat a healthy diet

A balanced diet, i.e. one that follows certain specific recommendations2 for diabetes, allows for control of blood sugar levels, which is as important as taking prescribed medication! Eating a healthy diet reduces the risks of developing a complication. It’s also an effective way of preventing the onset of diabetes.

Be active

Physical activity naturally increases sensitivity to insulin. Following the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, which recommend at least 150 minutes of aerobic physical activity, plus muscle strengthening activities twice a week,1 can help with managing diabetes.

Moderate weight loss

A modest body weight loss of 5%, achieved through the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits, can reduce the risk of having prediabetes progress to type 2 diabetes by as much as 60%, in addition to reducing the risk of complications.

Weight loss also improves blood sugar control by enhancing insulin sensitivity.

Remember: Small changes over the long term are always more effective than radical changes that are maintained for a short period!

Did you know?
People living with prediabetes have a 100% chance of developing type 2 diabetes within five years if no change is made to their lifestyle habits. The adoption of healthy lifestyle habits is therefore essential to the prevention of type 2 diabetes.


1 Diabetes Canada Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee. Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada. Can J Diabetes. 2018; 42 (Suppl1): S1-S325.

2 Diabetes Québec

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