Expo sheds light on growing immigrant diabetes problem

There is no way to sugar coat the rising epidemic of immigrants being diagnosed with diabetes.

“Diabetes cuts across all barriers,” Canadian Diabetes Association regional chair Ram Krishna said Nov. 20 at the Canadian South Asian Diabetes Expo. “It does not know communities.”

According to the latest census, Scarborough has a 57 per cent immigrant population and South Asians make up 37 per cent of that figure.

“South Asians are arriving here healthy and then things change,” said Neil Stephens, a representative from the Flemingdon Health Centre.

More than 500 people attended the third annual diabetes expo held at the Toronto Centre for Information and Community Services. The event featured diabetes experts and vendors who outlined how to prevent, diagnose and control the disease.

New immigrants are particularly at risk of developing pre-diabetes, an undetected condition that can lead to Type 2 diabetes.

Stephens said barriers faced by immigrant such as high stress, low income and lack of culturally sensitive resources are large factors to developing diabetes. Other high-risk populations include Hispanic, Asian and African.

The Canadian Diabetes Association has different cultural chapters to target the right prevention methods for different communities.

“The approach to diabetes has to be tailored to each community depending on their food habits and their lifestyle,” Krishna said. “That’s going to make the difference.”

The Rouge Valley Centenary Health Centre, West Hill Community Services and the Scarborough Health Services all have diabetes prevention programs in place. These free services are offered to all to learn how to prevent or control diabetes.

AWIC Community and Social Services offers free Bollywood dance lessons, yoga classes and healthy cooking classes.

The cooking classes focus on portion control and carbohydrate intake.

“We’re trying to introduce the plate method, so try to have half a plate of vegetables, a quarter of it is protein and a quarter of it is carbohydrates,” said Siva Swaminathan, a chef, cooking school instructor and chair of the Canadian Diabetes Association’s South Asian Diabetes Chapter.

Along with proper diet, experts at the diabetes expo stressed the importance of regular physical activity.

“Keep things simple, take baby steps,” said endocrinologist Ally Prebtani. “I don’t use the word exercise. It scares people because they think Bally or Good Life. I prefer the words ‘healthy lifestyle’. If you’re going to exercise, make sure you enjoy doing it.”