A Diabetes Charter for Canada

Monday, April 28, 2014

Diabetes is an urgent public health issue of epidemic proportions. Three million Canadians are currently living with diabetes and six million more are prediabetic. The Diabetes Charter for Canada released by the Canadian Diabetes Associate on April 7 is a response to these facts.

The Charter was created to empower Canadians with diabetes and their caregivers and to provide governments with a standard of care so they can ensure that Canadians living with diabetes enjoy the same level of support wherever they live in Canada.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic and incurable disease that occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t use it properly, leading to an excess of sugar in the blood. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the cells of the body use the glucose (sugar) in food to get the energy they need.

Insufficient insulin or insulin that can’t be used means that glucose (sugar) cannot be used by cells as fuel. This sugar then builds up in the bloodstream (hyperglycemia or high blood sugar) and is excreted in the urine. This excessive sugar in the blood leads to a variety of complications affecting the eyes, kidneys, nerves, heart and blood vessels.

The cause of diabetes is still unknown. We do know however that certain factors can trigger its onset, such as heredity, obesity, pregnancy and some viruses and medications.

Prevalence in Canada

Prevalence of diagnosed diabetes among individuals aged one year and older, by age group and sex, Canada, 2008/09


Source: Public Health Agency of Canada (July 2011); using 2008/09 data from the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System (Public Health Agency of Canada).

The rising number of cases takes a serious toll on society, since 40% of diabetics will suffer debilitating or even deadly complications. Diabetes is one of the primary causes of blindness, non-traumatic amputations and kidney failure. It is also a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Types of diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes, known as type 1 and type 2. Another type can also develop during pregnancy (gestational diabetes).

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes affects children, adolescents and young adults and is characterized by the body’s inability to produce insulin. People with the disease need daily insulin injections to survive. At present, there is no way to prevent this type of diabetes, and researchers are currently focusing their efforts on understanding the mechanisms that cause insulin-producing cells to be destroyed.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes appears much later in life, generally after age 40. The overwhelming majority of diabetics are of this type (90%). In the last few years it has been showing up at younger ages, sometimes even in children, particularly in certain high-risk populations.

We know that people of Aboriginal, Latin-American, Asian and African origin are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. A genetic predisposition, overweight and lack of physical activity are contributing factors. Some studies also suggest that a high-fat diet may also be a risk factor.

Type 2 diabetes is a stealth disease. Symptoms are often mild and go undetected for years. By the time it is diagnosed, much damage has already been done.

Fortunately it is possible to delay onset and reduce harm through major lifestyle changes.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes generally occurs late in the second trimester or during the third trimester of pregnancy. In 90% of cases it disappears after the baby’s birth.

Gestational diabetes occurs in 4% to 6% of pregnancies and affects both the baby and the mother. The baby may be abnormally large and develop diabetes later. The mother faces a higher risk of infection and may be more tired. Delivery complications are also more likely.

Gestational diabetes can often be treated and controlled through healthy eating and lifestyle. Insulation treatment may however be necessary, since oral diabetes medications are not recommended during pregnancy.


Diabetes symptoms can manifest in different ways and with varying degrees of intensity. But type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes all demand a doctor’s care. Symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue, drowsiness
  • Frequent, higher volume urination
  • Extreme thirst
  • Excessive hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow healing of cuts
  • Genital infections
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Mood swings

Sometimes the symptoms are not apparent. But diabetes is a serious disease that can significantly compromise quality of life.

Don’t take diabetes lightly!

Read the Charter at www.MyDiabetesCharter.ca


Canadian Diabetes Association
Health Agency of Canada