Richard Fecteau

By Richard Fecteau

November 14, 2018


Diabetes: a disease that’s on the rise

Article revised on 14 November 2018

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?

Sugar, also known as glucose or carbohydrate, is our body’s main source of energy. However, in order for our body to use the sugar, it needs insulin, which is a hormone that’s produced by our pancreas. Without insulin, the sugar can’t reach our tissues and builds up in our blood. Diabetes is therefore a condition of hyperglycemia, i.e. the result of a high concentration of sugar in our blood.

What causes diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is present when our body is unable to produce insulin. That occurs because of a genetic mutation that causes a defect in our immune system, which destroys the pancreatic cells that produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by a multitude of factors, including the adoption of poor lifestyle habits, which reduces insulin secretion or causes insulin resistance. In the latter case, although insulin is being produced normally, our body’s insulin sensitivity is impaired or absent altogether. As a result, the insulin is no longer able to carry out its role effectively.

Nearly 90% of people with diabetes have this type.1 The obesity epidemic and our increasingly sedentary lifestyle are the two modifiable 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?

The adoption of healthy lifestyle habits is the first-line treatment for preventing and managing diabetes. Here are some of the benefits associated with the adoption of healthy behaviours and their effectiveness with regard to 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

Following the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, which suggest accumulating at least 150 minutes of moderate-to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity and adding muscle strengthening activities two days per week,can apparently reduce the complications associated with diabetes, boost insulin sensitivity and facilitate weight loss.

Manage your weight

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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