Understanding the Link Between Obesity and Diabetes in Canada

/ By Cowan Insurance Group

Type 2 diabetes and obesity are chronic diseases growing at alarming rates in Canada and globally. There are 11 million Canadians who are diabetic or prediabetic. Of those 11 million, 90% have type 2 diabetes, while only 10% have type 1. At the same time, 26% of Canadian adults are classified as obese, and another 36% are overweight and at risk for obesity. The current diabetes diagnostics rate of 3.3% is projected to rise as the population ages, which means the population will also be at more significant risk for other co-morbidities often associated with diabetes, such as heart disease and stroke.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease in which your body either can not produce insulin (type 1) or adequately use the insulin it produces (type 2). Although both types of diabetes are classified as one disease, there are significant differences between the two:

Type 1

  • Also known as insulin-dependent or juvenile diabetes, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease
  • People with type 1 diabetes stop producing insulin, which regulates blood sugar, and require daily doses of insulin to survive
  • Type 1 diabetes most commonly occurs in younger age groups (i.e. children and adolescents)
  • There is currently no cure for type 1 diabetes

Customize your group benefits coverage to include proactive, targeted support for chronic conditions.

Type 2

  • People with type 2 diabetes can no longer properly use the insulin made by their bodies, or their bodies cannot produce enough insulin
  • A vast majority of people living with diabetes in Canada (90%) have type 2
  • You are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if you are age 45 or older, have a family history of diabetes, or are overweight or obese
  • Prediabetes is a diagnosis that indicates an elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Gestational Diabetes occurs during pregnancy and is usually temporary

Obesity and type 2 diabetes

Obesity is categorized as having an abnormal or excessive amount of fat accumulation, determined by using a person's height and weight to calculate a number known as BMI, or Body Mass Index. Obesity is caused by lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise, but can also be influenced by social determinants of health, age, and genetics. People categorized as obese or overweight are three times more likely to have or develop type 2 diabetes than those with a healthy weight.

Obesity and diabetes can also increase a person's risk of developing:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Kidney disease
  • Vision problems
  • Nerve and joint issues
  • Depression and anxiety

The cost of diabetes and obesity

Diabetes is one of the top healthcare expenditures in Canada and the U.S. and is four times higher than the cost of mental health claims. Other cost implications that diabetes can have for employers include disability costs and lost productivity resulting from absenteeism/presenteeism. In 2019, the cost of treating diabetes in Ontario was estimated at $1.5 billion. Nationally, treating diabetes has increased in price from $14 billion in 2008 to just under $30 billion in 2020.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the annual direct healthcare cost for diabetes is projected to be $8.8 billion in 2021. In addition to healthcare costs, the economic burden of obesity in Canada ranges from $4.6 billion to $7.1 billion annually in direct and indirect expenses.

The importance of nutrition and diet

A healthy meal plan can help you maintain optimal blood glucose levels, reduce or improve your chances of developing obesity, and prevent type 2 diabetes. A healthy diet that includes a variety of foods from all food groups is a cornerstone in the prevention and management of both obesity and diabetes:

  • Vegetable – Broccoli, carrots, greens, peppers, potatoes, corn, and green peas
  • Fruits – Oranges, melon, berries, apples, bananas, and grapes
  • Grains – At least half of your daily grains intake should consist of whole grains, including wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, and quinoa
  • Protein – Chicken or turkey without the skin, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, tofu
  • Dairy (non-fat or low-fat) – Plain yogurts, hard and soft cheese such as mozzarella or cottage cheese

Learn more about basic meal planning and healthy eating tips by visiting Diabetes Canada or Canada's Food Guide.

You can help your employees take action against obesity. To better understand the potential impacts that obesity is having on your workplace, reach out to a Cowan Insurance Group consultant today.


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