Researcher finds diabetes epidemic in Alberta's Aboriginal population slowing

(Edmonton) Research done in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry has some good news and some bad news when it comes to rates of diabetes in status Aboriginals in Alberta.

The good news: the increase in rates of Type 2 diabetes in status Aboriginals appears to be slowing compared with the increase in the general population.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the rates seem to not be increasing as fast in comparison to the general population,” said Richard Oster, a PhD student in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta. “There’s a hint that maybe this epidemic is slowing down a bit.”

The bad news: the rate of increasing diabetes amongst male status Aboriginals is growing faster compared to their female counterparts. This is starting to mirror the general population, which sees more men with Type 2 diabetes than women.

But according to Oster, the most alarming statistic from this study, published in the July edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, was the overall mortality rate of status Aboriginal people. For those with diabetes the death rates were decreasing in both status Aboriginals and the general population. But for those without diabetes, mortality rates remained unchanged among status Aboriginals, despite the fact they decreased in the general Alberta population, a result that shocked Oster. 

The researchers collected the data for their study from the Alberta Health and Wellness administrative databases. They looked at trends between 1995 and 2007 for Albertans aged 20 and over.

“It’s important to do surveillance of disease to help make funding and policy decisions,” said Oster about the study.

Oster became passionate about Aboriginal health when he started working as a research assistant four years ago. He hopes his ongoing work will help other people become advocates for the population and its health.

“I would hope that the general population would just become more aware of Aboriginal health,” says Oster. “This study doesn’t say anything about their history but maybe it’ll spark someone’s interest to be a little sympathetic.

“They’re Canadians and many are suffering, many live below the poverty line, and many are almost living in third world conditions, yet they’re Canadian citizens.”

Oster will continue to study the epidemiology of diabetes in status Aboriginal populations. He also wants to do a qualitative study with Aboriginal women who have had gestational diabetes, which is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and often leads to Type 2 diabetes after pregnancy.

“I want to understand what it was like for these women,” said Oster who adds he’ll ask questions about treatment and health care access during their pregnancy. “Ideally once we know what the problem is from the lens of actual Aboriginal people, we would like to come up with some sort of intervention together.”