Nunatsiaq News
FEATURES: -none- January 16, 2004 - 1:47 pm

Greenland experiencing sharp diabetes increase



The incidence of diabetes, which was almost non-existent in Greenland during the 1960s, has increased sharply over the past 40 years.

This alarming news is just one of the findings of a much larger survey on Greenlandic health, recently completed by researchers from two Danish research institutes and reported in the popular Danish science magazine Polarfronten - The Polar Front.

Today, the incidence of diabetes in Greenland is comparable to other lifestyle diseases, such as cancer and circulatory disorders.

Although recent studies in Canada and Alaska show diabetes is on the rise among the indigenous populations in these Arctic regions, the incidence of diabetes in the Greenland population was even found to be higher than in the Danish population. This finding came as a great surprise to those involved in the study.

“I think that diabetes has a higher incidence in Greenland than Denmark because Greenlanders are more vulnerable to this disease due to genetic factors,” said Dr. Marit Eika Joergensen, one of three Danish physicians who conducted the research.

The upward trend in diabetes in Greenland closely dovetails the societal development that Greenland has experienced in the past 50 years.

The most potent risk factors driving the diabetes epidemic - in addition to a genetic predisposition - are alcohol consumption, age, obesity, physical inactivity and hypertension.

Eating fruits and vegetables seems to have a preventive effect, as does regular consumption of seal meat.

Researchers also found some other unexpected results from the information they gathered. For instance, they expected to find a higher incidence among people living in towns than settlements because the population in towns have a more modern lifestyle while settlement residents follow the original Inuit lifestyle more closely and would presumably have a more traditional diet.

As it turned out, the opposite was true. In the remote settlement of Uummannaq, 14.5 per cent of the population has diabetes, while in Nuuk, the capital, eight per cent have been diagnosed with this chronic disease.

Generally, chronic diseases in Greenland don’t receive much attention from the health authorities, because communities have a high incidence of injuries due to accidents that often require urgent treatment, Joergensen said.

To prevent diabetes, researchers are advising public health authorities in Greenland to reduce the population’s exposure to risk factors, such as alcohol, obesity, physical inactivity and a diet with a high cholesterol content.

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