Diabetes-prone neighbourhoods selected for research studyFocus on new immigrants living in povertyWith diabetes attacking a disproportionately high number of high-risk groups in pockets around Toronto, a new groundbreaking study hopes residents in North York and Scarborough can help stop the disease in its tracks.
North York’s Jane-Finch neighbourhood and Scarborough’s Agincourt North area have been chosen to take part in the first program of its kind in Ontario, said Michael Riddell, one of the project’s lead researchers and an associate professor at York University’s faculty of health.
York’s study is based on a report released two years ago from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).
ICES concluded new immigrants living in poverty in Toronto had extremely high rates of diabetes due to a number of factors such as a lack of opportunity for physical activity.
Now, York wants to take that information and go one step further by finding out what it takes to prevent diabetes.
“We have known for quite some time that these neighbourhoods have very high rates of diabetes,” said Riddell, a world-renowned diabetes and exercise physiologist.
“When we saw (the ICES report), we thought (residents in high-risk neighbourhoods) must have high rates of pre-diabetes too. We thought ‘What can we do to change these neighbourhoods, to make the (incidence) of diabetes not so high?’”
More than two million Canadians have Type 2 diabetes, which is related to obesity and lack of exercise.
The disease can often lead to damage of many of the body’s organs. Once contracted, it is rarely reversible.
Riddell, who was diagnosed with Type 1 or juvenile diabetes at the age of 14, said the study will focus on 300 participants of Asian, South Asian, African and African-Caribbean in the Jane-Finch and Agincourt North neighbourhoods whose lifestyle puts them at an extreme risk of developing diabetes.
They will be matched with York University exercise physiologist graduates, who will tailor enjoyable sports programs to their needs. Activities could include games, badminton, basketball, soccer, cultural dances and tai chi.
“We’re not just presenting typical walking, jogging, biking (as exercise possibilities). We’re trying to be novel (with activities) we think they may like to do,” Riddell said.
The opportunities will be offered in small group settings to promote social networking and motivation among participants.
The study, which will last at least six months, will pay for participants’ transportation costs.
“We’re trying to determine whether we can prevent diabetes in ethnic groups who statistically have much higher rates of the disease,” Riddell said.
“Ontario’s diabetes rates have already soared past the high levels predicted for 2030. Preventing diabetes now is more crucial than ever.”
By bringing fun and free activities to participants in their own neighbourhoods, Riddell hopes the study will achieve two goals.
First, it will show participants the health and social benefits of taking part in activities they enjoy.
“I hope they will embrace it. You’re really being offered free trainers,” Riddell said.
“Normally, if you want a trainer, you have to shell out a fair amount of money. We’re giving it to them for free.”
Second, it will prove to governments the importance of investing in exercise to prevent diabetes.
“We expect to reduce diabetes by 60 per cent,” Riddell said.
“This is better than any medications, which reduce diabetes by 30 to 50 per cent and medications could be masking (the symptoms). We truly believe exercise or physical activity can reduce diabetes by 60 per cent.”
Researchers will work with local public health units, community health centres and culturally based recreation and community centres in Jane-Finch and north Agincourt.
The study will include adults in the targeted ethnic groups between the ages of 40 and 64, the group most at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
The Ontario Ministry of Health promotion has provided $425,000 for the study with additional funds coming from the Canadian Diabetes Association.