Hackett interviewed about Aboriginal diabetes work

July 20, 2012

A recent program on an Aboriginal Internet radio station features SPHERU researcher Paul Hackett speaking about the growth of Type 2 diabetes among Aboriginal people.

He was interviewed about his work with SPHERU for the “Healthy Living” episode on Radio NAHO. The segment aired on April 30, 2012 and is available of the website.

Radio NAHO
Radio NAHO

Radio NAHO is a new initiative for the National Aboriginal Health Organization and focuses on health issues from a holistic perspective, with an emphasis on prevention. While it promotes healthy behaviour for all Aboriginal people, it is aimed in particular at youth and young adults.

For the Healthy Living episode, Hackett’s interview runs in the middle of the half-hour program, which also features stories on a Mi’kmaq youth leader inspiring youth to get active through the sport of parkour and an Ojibwe women’s boxing champion.

At the outset of his interview, Hackett provides some historic context. Type 2 diabetes had been rare among the populations in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, but it began showing up with increasing frequency in the 1970s and 1980s. At present, it has reached the point where the rates for some Aboriginal communities are among the highest in the world.

“It is certainly an emerging epidemic as we speak,” Hackett said.

There may be different factors, including genetic or environmental, but Hackett thinks the move away from an established, traditional way of life and diet in recent decades has been an important influence.

“My research tends to point toward cultural change,” he says. “Overall, we’re looking at a movement away from traditional forms of activity.”
In other words, eating large amounts of unhealthy food – something that affects the Canadian population in general – is contributing to the increase of Type 2 diabetes. This becomes all the more complicated for remote Aboriginal communities because they cannot always get easy access to healthy foods, especially when road access is limited. The result is that processed, less nutritious foods become more readily available and affordable because they tend to last longer.

“You get a situation where it’s cheaper to drink Coke than milk.”

As far as solutions, some communities are working to bring back traditional activities, getting people back to the land or constructing gardens for local, healthy foods.

Hackett’s work with SPHERU also raises questions about the role of government and the need to consider interventions such as subsidizing healthy food as a way to counteract the growth of diabetes.

The SPHERU website has more information about SPHERU’s work on this issue, including an historical comparative analysis and the History of Diabetes Data Processing Unit.


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