It’s been a whole year since the first Cree Regional Diabetes conference – held last November in Mistissini – and while much has changed since that time the diabetes epidemic has remained the same. In other words, it continues to grow.

But there is some debate about the nature of that growth. While there are more officially recorded diabetics in Eeyou Istchee, some think this may be due to more aggressive testing policies at the Cree Health Board.

“We have been working with public health and the clinics to get more people screened and create awareness,” said Sol Awashish, program officer for prevention of chronic diseases for the Health Board. “A lot of the time when people start showing symptoms, like being thirsty all of the time and having to urinate frequently, they have had it for five or six years.”

On the positive side, sweeping changes have followed the CHB focus on health education. They are seeing results.

“A lot more people have started walking, we now see a lot more people walking in the communities,” Awashish noted. “Walking is just the best form of exercise as you don’t need anything to do it.”

Since 2006 the CSB has been touting the benefits of exercise as their best

weapon against the disease. Awashish said the new sports complex in Mistissini is giving residents there more opportunities to be physically active.

“The recreation directors in all of the communities have also been working on creating more physical activities that people can participate in. There are also now a lot of walking clubs.”

The Health Board has also put a lot of effort into making healthier foods more readily available in the communities, both commercially and at home. “We have been working with a lot of the restaurants to change their menus, to offer foods that are healthier,” Awashish said.

There are now also dieticians working with the communities to teach people how to eat healthier and show them how to make better choices and even helping them out in unexpected places. “Sometimes they will help people to do their shopping to show them what to buy in the grocery stores to show them what they should be buying,” he said.

While healthier shopping can play a big role in fighting diabetes, Awashish emphasizes that the wilderness supermarket still offers the best food choices.

“A lot of studies have found that it is much better for aboriginal people to eat

traditional foods, especially for those that have diabetes,” said Awashish. “We used to hunt for our food but we modernized too fast. A lot of new technology came into the communities very quickly and now we are very sedentary.”

The CHB will be holding another Regional Diabetes Conference sometime in 2008 but for this year they have been hosting what Awashish described as “mini-conferences” in the individual communities throughout the month of November.

For more information contact the Cree Health Board.