Canada’s Aboriginal population suffers disproportionately higher rates of Type 2 diabetes than the rest of Canada. Prevalence rates are three times higher in Aboriginal men and five times higher in Aboriginal women than in non-Aboriginal people. Diabetes is linked to blindness, kidney failure, limb amputations, heart disease, and stroke. It also creates an economic burden through higher health care costs, absence from work, and premature death. These effects are especially significant because Type 2 diabetes is both preventable and manageable in part through a healthy lifestyle (that is, a nutritious diet and regular exercise) and monitoring one’s blood sugar and blood pressure. With this in mind, the Diabetes Education Centre (based in Saskatoon’s Royal University and St. Paul’s Hospitals) partnered with the Saskatoon Community Clinic to create Diabetes Morning, an outreach diabetes education program. Those who attend Diabetes Morning learn about managing their diabetes and how to cook and prepare nutritious meals for themselves and their families. Diabetes Morning’s impact on participants’ health and well-being is the subject of Mary Pat Dressler’s preliminary study, Aboriginal Women Share Their Stories in an Outreach Diabetes Education Program.
The Diabetes Morning program has met monthly since 1998, providing information and support on diabetes management, blood and blood pressure testing, general health maintenance, and meal planning. The ultimate goal of the program is decreased health care costs through better diabetes self-management. To achieve that outcome requires learning new skills and changing attitudes and behaviours. Working with the clinic’s nutritionist, participants learn how to prepare low cost and healthy meals, how to make wise and fiscally responsible food purchases, and how to control meals’ portion sizes. In the fall of 1999, a focus group was conducted with sixteen female program participants. An exercise was designed to generate a list of things that the women felt made a difference in their health and well-being. Participants revealed that their main goal in attending Diabetes Morning was to learn and share knowledge about eating a healthier diet and having healthier overall lifestyles, and develop supportive peer networks. A series of individual and group interviews allowed the women to expand on those points, placing abstract goals in the context of their particular lives. Indeed, Dressler concludes that the program’s impact is very much embedded within the context of each participant’s life, and that such a context must be considered when creating treatment and management regimens.
While Dressler’s report is admittedly preliminary, it provides considerable foundational data and establishes valuable avenues of inquiry regarding management of Type 2 diabetes. The positive feedback from participants suggests that this type of hands-on learning approach is worth expanding and improving.