Across the globe, we are seeing a dramatic increase of Type 2 diabetes in children.
Previously known as adult-onset diabetes, Type 2 diabetes is now being seen in Canadian children as young as four years of age and is leading to unusually severe and early kidney and eye disease.
The highest rate of diabetes in Toronto is in Thorncliffe Park, a multicultural hub in East Toronto.
With children and young families in Michael Garron Hospital (MGH), Toronto East Health Network’s catchment area being at such high-risk, a team from the hospital has received community funding from the Lawson Foundation’s Child Fund for upstream diabetes prevention.
The Not in My Children program pulled community partners in Thorncliffe Park together to initiate Healthy Families: Begin Right. Eat. Play, a project designed to build the community’s capacity to prevent Type 2 diabetes through education and empowerment.
“Family risk can’t change, but family habits can,” notes Amber Sami, Project Coordinator. “This program works with local physicians and community partners on family-focused diabetes prevention to ensure the message is sustained when the funding expires at the end of the year.”
Amber and Yogeeta Sharma, Registered Dietitian, are working to develop programs together with partners like the Toronto District School Board, Early ON Child and Family Centre, Toronto Public Health, Health Access Thorncliffe Park and Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office; partners that Amber says are “dedicated to carry on after the formal project ends.”
Goals of the initiative include:
- Providing tools and education to primary care providers to support earlier screening and prevention for at-risk children and for women at risk for gestational diabetes (untreated gestational diabetes causes higher risk for Type 2 diabetes for their children).
- Working directly with community partners to educate residents about the importance of healthy eating, exercise and sleep in preventing childhood Type 2 diabetes through:
- Community kitchens.
- Developing and distributing educational materials (tear off pads, magnets).
- In-school programs such as healthy eating announcements created and delivered by Grade five students to their peers; school assemblies; open houses; and a back to school health screening day for kids and families.
Both Amber and Yogeeta are part of the neighbourhood’s culturally diverse population.
“It really helps to have cultural knowledge when dealing with health education,” says Yogeeta, describing how she added Lassi (a sweetened yogurt drink) to a ‘Think about your Drink’ handout, to make it more culturally relevant.
The initiative works with schools to directly involve children, understanding that children can easily absorb knowledge that “can translate into habits for the whole family.”
“I’ve seen a number of examples that tell me we’re going in the right direction,” says Amber.
“Women are outwardly enjoying the community kitchens and asking their friends to come. I recently saw a young boy and his Dad in a local store looking at beverages when the boy suggested they get water because he had learned that it was the healthiest choice – and they did!”
With the strides made by this program, the team is hopeful that we can turn the corner on this growing disease and offset imminent and long-range childhood Type 2 diabetes risk in the East Toronto community.