Diabetes affects people from various ethnic backgrounds differently. Experts believe that people of South Asian (e.g., Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi) descent have a 2 to 5 times higher risk of diabetes compared to other Canadians.

A recent study suggests that South Asian immigrants and women are in the highest risk group. Diabetes also seems to appear 10 years earlier in South Asians. A community screening program in 9 Canadian cities found that 10% of South Asians had previously-undiagnosed diabetes, compared to 2% of the general Canadian population.

In addition to diabetes and its complications, South Asians are also at the highest risk of death from heart disease and stroke. Because of this, it is especially important to take extra care to lead a healthy life.

Here are some healthy living tips:

  • Discuss your individual risk of diabetes: Since South Asians have an overall higher risk at an earlier age, you should ask your physician, nurse, pharmacist, or other primary health care provider about your individual risk for diabetes, especially if you are a woman or new to Canada.
  • Keep active: Regular exercise is good for everyone, and especially for people with diabetes.
  • Eat a balanced, culturally-relevant diet: Translated versions of Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide are available, along with an interactive tool that allows you to customize your own version of the Food Guide. Heart-healthy South Asian recipe ideas can be found here. For more help, ask for a referral to a dietitian who is familiar with South Asian foods.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Check with your physician, nurse, and dietitian on how to reach and maintain a healthy weight over time.
  • Take your medications as prescribed: Medications are often a necessary part of diabetes management. Your physician or pharmacist can advise on the best medications for your diabetes and help you take them as prescribed.
  • Know your target numbers: People with diabetes have specific targets when it comes to blood sugars, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Work with your health care team to reach your targets.
  • Get a checkup from head to toe: Your specialists and regular health care team can help you check for signs of eye, kidney, nerve, and foot problems.
  • Stop smoking as soon as possible: Smoking is harmful, and especially for people with diabetes. If you are a smoker, it's never too late to quit. There are many tools available to help you quit smoking.