York University launches diabetes screening and prevention program

York University researchers are launching the first program of its kind in Ontario to screen high-risk communities for pre-diabetes and help prevent its progression with specialized physical activity programs.

The Pre-Diabetes Detection and Physical Activity Intervention Delivery Program targets ethnic groups at high risk, using a community-based approach to engage them in the physical activities they enjoy.  

Starting this month, six certified exercise physiologists will work with local public health units, community health centres and culturally based recreation and community centres in Toronto’s Jane-Finch community and the Agincourt North community of Scarborough. Three hundred participants will be recruited to participate in the program.

“We’re trying to determine whether we can prevent diabetes in ethnic groups who statistically have Headshot of Michael Riddell, associate professor of Kinesiologymuch higher rates of the disease, by engaging them in physical activities they like,” says Michael Riddell (left), a professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in York’s Faculty of Health and one of the project’s lead researchers. “Ontario’s diabetes rates have already soared past the high levels predicted for 2030. Preventing diabetes is more crucial now than ever.”

In the Jane-Finch community, there are large numbers of residents who are of South Asian, African or African-Caribbean descent, while in the Agincourt North community there are large resident concentrations of Chinese persons. All these groups are at high risk for the disease.

Pre-diabetes is a condition characterized by a slight elevation in blood glucose, which typically develops into Type 2 diabetes within two to five years. Type 2 diabetes is directly related to obesity and is rarely reversible.

Exercise physiologists will be matched to community groups based on ethnic background and language skills. Researchers have also enlisted two exercise physiologists from the aboriginal community, who will work in Northern Ontario in a later phase of the project, slated to begin in April 2010.

Some of the activities exercise physiologists will promote include traditional games such as badminton, basketball and soccer, and cultural activities such as tai chi and Bollywood dance. These opportunities will be offered in small group settings to promote social networking, exercise adherence and motivation amongst participants.

The communities were selected based on input from the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion and the Black Creek Community Health Centre, and data from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences Diabetes Atlas.

“Now that we have the tools that are sensitive enough to diagnose pre-diabetes, we are able to screen for the disease and then put preventative measures into action immediately,” says Riddell. “We can and must reverse the diabetes epidemic in Ontario.”

The project is supported by $425,000 in grants from the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion. Additional funding from the Canadian Diabetes Association is being used by Riddell to study the mechanisms by which regular exercise and stress influence the development of diabetes.

Riddell is conducting the pre-diabetes intervention project alongside School of Kinesiology & Health Science Professors Norman Gledhill (study chair), Roni Jamnik, Christopher Ardern, Jennifer Kuk and Paul Ritvo, a multidisciplinary team from the school’s Physical Activity & Diabetes Unit, part of York University’s Faculty of Health.