Alberta's diabetic population could grow by 67 per cent this decade, says a new report, and cost the province more than a billion dollars.
The Canadian Diabetes Association released a study Wednesday at a diabetes conference in Edmonton. The study forecasts the growth of Alberta's diabetic population to the year 2020.
About six per cent of Albertans are diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes each year, the report found (about 217,000 people). That would rise to about nine per cent by 2020 (363,000 people) — a 67 per cent increase, the highest in Canada.
These are "staggering" numbers, said association president Michael Cloutier, and they come with staggering costs: Alberta would lose about $1.6 billion in 2020 due to diabetes in the form of medical costs and lost productivity.
"It is a direct hit to the economy," he says. "This is going to be a significant drain on the economy if we don't do something today."
This diabetic wave has been in the works for about a decade, said Jeffrey Johnson, a professor of public health at the University of Alberta and St. Albert resident who studies diabetes.
"We're all getting older and we're living longer," he said, both of which raise a person's risk of developing diabetes. We're also getting more obese — another risk factor. Alberta also has a growing Asian and aboriginal population, two ethnic groups with higher risks of diabetes.
Just 20 per cent of the projected costs of diabetes are the result of hospital stays or medication, the report found. The rest is indirect, caused by earlier deaths and disability due to blindness or limb loss.
The average Albertan spends about $2,050 a year on diabetes care, Cloutier said. He called on the province to make sure all Albertans could get the medicine they need to avoid diabetes-related complications. The province subsides diabetic seniors and low-income families, but not others.
Johnson disagreed, saying Albertans already have excellent access to diabetes medication. "The money we're spending needs to be spent on the most effective things."
That means education and prevention, he said. About 60 per cent of Type 2 diabetes cases can be prevented with exercise, good nutrition and weight loss, he noted — actions that can also help people who have the disease. "We need to create opportunities and make it easy for people to have healthy lifestyles."
The bottom line is that people need to pay more attention to their health, said Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky. Proper diet, exercise and regular check-ups all help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes.
The province is working with the University of Alberta to study diabetes in remote areas, Zwozdesky said, and has planned a forum this December that will address the disease.
A two to three per cent drop in diabetes rates would lead to a 15 per cent drop in medical costs for that disease, Cloutier said. "It means a big cost savings down the road," he said. "It's worthwhile for the government, the private sector and individuals to make the investment."