The Cree women of Northern Quebec have the second-highest rate of gestational diabetes reported in an Aboriginal group worldwide.

That’s the finding of a two-year study published May 4 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Nearly 13 per cent of Cree women giving birth were found to have gestational diabetes, which occurs in pregnant women.

This form of diabetes normally goes away after pregnancy, but the woman is more likely to get diabetes later in life; also, there is more chance of birth trauma, an unusually big baby and caesarian section, said Elizabeth Robinson, public-health coordinator at the Cree Health Board.

Meanwhile, the diabetes rate continues to soar among the general Cree population. As of May 1998, 733 people had diabetes in the Cree communities, according to a Cree Health Board registry. That works out to 10 per cent of the adult Cree population (compared to a 4-per-cent Canadian average).

The 733 number was up from 607 people diagnosed the previous year.

Diabetes can lead to damage to eyes, kidneys, nerves and arteries. It is a leading cause of amputations, heart problems, blindness and impotence. It can be controlled and prevented by exercize and good diet.

The Cree Health Board is now updating its figures. Nurses are already reporting the numbers have gone up yet again. Mistissini, for example, has over 300 people with diabetes, up from 223 cases in May 1998, said Alice Wapachee, the community health representative.

The new number means 18 per cent of residents aged 15 and up have diabetes, or one in five. That gives Mistissini one of the highest diabetes rates in the world.

Diabetes rates are higher in Cree communities further south and closer to non-Native towns. Whapmagoostui’s rate is a much lower 5.1 percent; in Chisasibi, it’s 6.4 per cent. Older people and women are also more affected. One in three Crees aged over 50 has diabetes. And two-thirds of the diabetes cases are women.