The Diabetic Climate of Sandy Lake

The Diabetic Climate of Sandy Lake: One of the truisms about diabetes is it requires a healthy diet with emphasis on certain food types. This can be difficult in poor economics times, perhaps more so when your ethnicity and geographical location places you on a collision course with diabetes.

In Sandy Lake, Canada the Oji-Cree Indians have a rich history, but multiple changes over the last 50+ years have placed them in a treacherous predicament. According to The Vancouver Sun, “A quarter of the people [in Sandy Lake] have diabetes, the highest rate in Canada and third highest in the world.”

Fresh fruit and vegetables in this fly in community are more than twice what the rest of Canada pays. A half-gallon of milk costs nearly $7 Canadian. This has resident Lucy Day saying, “Way too expensive.” She’s not alone and options are almost nonexistent.

The Oji-Cree Indians have lived in the Sandy Lake area since at least the 1800’s. They had to work hard just to stay alive, but in the 1950’s modern conveniences came to Sandy Lake and the Oji-Cree Indians did not have to work as hard. The more sedentary lifestyle coupled with a hereditary that is prone to diabetes has meant that this people group are experiencing profound health difficulties. They don’t want to leave, but it’s getting harder to stay.

They have watched as friends and family are forced to move away from Sandy Lake to receive late stage diabetes care.

More than 10% of their children (under 19) have developed diabetes and much of it is linked to diet, exercise and heredity. More than 40% of residents in their 40’s develop diabetes in Sandy Lake.

Are the changes experienced by the Oji-Cree Indians a result of macroevolution (changes or adaptations within an individual or people group)? The Vancouver Sun report said, “Researchers suspect the survivors of such “merciless” food scarcity were genetically and metabolically tuned to make the most of food. It was a distinct advantage to have a metabolism good at packing away extra calories as fat reserves that could be used as energy when food ran scarce.”

In other words this people group may have experienced metabolic adaptations during years when food was extremely scarce (many died during that part of their history). This may sound far fetched, but one of the reasons diets can often backfire (if they aren’t a lifestyle change) is that your body remembers what it is used to having so when it finally gets it there is a process where those nutrients (and even fat) can be horded by the body because it believes it may again be deprived of them at some point.

The isolated community of Sandy Lake continues to make strides toward helping the hundreds of residents who have diabetes learn to make better choices. This includes schools, radio programs and after school athletic events. Leaders are working to gain a dialysis machine to allow residents to stay in town instead of making a long journey to Winnipeg for regular treatment.

Residents seem very aware they need to make healthy choices, yet the exorbitant prices assigned to fresh food in Sandy Lake can make it difficult to afford the healthiest alternatives, “Everyone tells us to eat better, but look at how much everything costs,” laments resident Anne Meekis.

Progress has come to Sandy Lake, but a new direction is needed and change always seems to take time – and money. While funds are in short supply the community continues to work to make corrections where they can.