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Understanding Diabetic Health on World Diabetes Day

Every day, approximately 500 people in Canada are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, according to Diabetes Canada.

World Diabetes Day (WDD) is marked every year on Nov. 14, the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who co-discovered insulin along with Charles Best in 1922. WDD is an official United Nation’s World Health Day that unites the global diabetes community to raise awareness about the impact of diabetes.

Dr. Steve Johnson, Associate Professor and Program Director in the Faculty of Health Disciplines, is a diabetes researcher at Athabasca University (AU), and member of a diabetes research team at the University of Alberta (

His research around diabetes relates to healthy eating and active living, the two primary approaches to prevent and manage diabetes.

What are the different types of diabetes?

Woman checking glucose level with a remote sensor and mobile phone, sensor checkup glucose levels without blood, good result. Diabetes treatment. Focus on background.
Checking glucose level with a remote sensor and mobile phone

There are three different types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM).

Type 1

Roughly 10 per cent of people who have diabetes have Type 1 diabetes. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes are insulin dependent, which means the body doesn’t produce insulin. Having a parent or sibling with Type 1 slightly increases your risk of having it, but more genetic factors are involved due to the hereditary and environmental nature. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in youth and used to be called “Youth On-Set Diabetes.” Compared to Type 2, it is quite different.

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes—about 90 per cent of people who have diabetes have Type 2. It usually occurs after the age of 40. There is some genetic component, however, the genetic component is far less common with Type 2. It is more a lifestyle-related disease. Being overweight and obese are very strong risk factors that impact your likelihood of getting Type 2 diabetes. It’s not necessarily just from eating sugar like most people think; over time your body doesn’t manage blood sugar very well.

Gestational Diabetes Mellitus

Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) is a type of diabetes that occurs in the second or third trimester of pregnancy. Anywhere between five to 20 per cent of pregnancies will develop gestational diabetes, however, that depends on a women’s risk profile. The majority of women who develop it did not have diabetes prior to the pregnancy, and once the baby is born, the diabetes goes away. As women age, their risk of developing GDM increases. The risk for developing Type 2 diabetes becomes greater for women after a gestational diabetes pregnancy.

What is the biggest difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes?

The biggest difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is the requirement for insulin in Type 1. People with Type 1 will die very quickly if they don’t have insulin. New technologies such as automated glucose monitors and insulin pumps automatically administer and check blood-sugar levels, which significantly minimizes the risk. Type 1 diabetes has a stronger genetic component, and generally appears in the person’s youth.

Can diabetes be prevented?

You can prevent Type 2 and gestational diabetes through healthy lifestyles, specifically by:

  • being active,
  • eating healthy,
  • not smoking, and
  • lowering alcohol intake.

What treatment options are available?

There are two approaches to treatment and management. Once you have a diagnosis, managing your disease can be done either through lifestyle changes, or with medication and insulin. As the disease progresses and isn’t managed through lifestyle changes, the more medications you will have to take, and then eventually insulin.

Diabetes management and mitigation is a three-stage process: prevention, management, and complications.

If diabetes goes untreated, over time your body will not manage your blood sugar and the insulin that your body produces won’t work very well. This has the potential to create complications related to diabetes, and not necessarily diabetes itself.

Usually people develop heart disease, but there are other complications such as neuropathy, which affects the nerves in your extremities and can result in amputations. People also have the risk of losing their eyesight if their diabetes isn’t managed very well.

To avoid the risk of diabetes complications, ensure you integrate healthy eating and active living into your life. For more information about diabetes or to learn more about risk and warning signs, visit the Diabetes Canada webpage.

  • November 13, 2020