Continuing the battle against type 2 diabetes during a pandemic


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This article is adapted from the Foundation’s magazine

This past year, the Diabetes Prevention Clinic pivoted to telemedicine in order to provide support services for the new context—a decision that really paid off.

If you could reverse your type 2 diabetes diagnosis through exercise and healthy eating, would you do it? That was the challenge taken up by patients of the Diabetes Prevention Clinic sponsored by Sun Life at the Montreal Heart Institute in 2018. At the end of its second year, which saw the clinical team have to reinvent itself to maintain an optimal level of support, everyone involved is thrilled with the progress made by the 223 participants.

“I’m impressed with how close the participants have come to turning their health condition around, even in the face of the challenges posed by the pandemic,” Jacques Goulet, President of Sun Life Canada, said.

“The current crisis has underscored how diabetes can lead to serious complications for people who contract COVID-19. This, in turn, has highlighted the importance of continuing to equip people with the tools to manage their health.”

“We’re pleased that we were able to maintain the clinic’s services even though the EPIC Centre’s activities had to be suspended. The results we’ve seen in our patients confirm the positive impact of regular exercise on blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, and show that when combined with a high-quality diet, physical activity helps prevent and mitigate the effects of type 2 diabetes,” noted Dr. Martin Juneau, Director of Prevention at the Montreal Heart Institute and Supervisor of the Diabetes Prevention Clinic sponsored by Sun Life.

Fast-tracked because of lockdown, telehealth has allowed remote follow-ups during the pandemic as well numerous tools to be shared with patients to help them adopt healthier lifestyle habits. Group seminars, training sessions and one-on-one meetings were promptly offered online. And to make up for not being able to receive patients in its gymnasium, the EPIC Centre made videos serving up health advice and suggesting exercises to do at home or outdoors available to the public. This has helped participants stay on track to meet their goals.

A tailored program to meet growing demand

The Diabetes Prevention Clinic’s mission is to turn the tide on diabetes through early detection and healthy lifestyle changes. The program meets a growing demand for preventive services for patients living with diabetes and prediabetes, chronic conditions that currently affect 1 in 3 Canadians. Cardiovascular disease is the most common complication and the leading cause of death in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Studies show that people with type 2 diabetes who make lifestyle changes, such as eating a high-quality diet, doing regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, quitting smoking, and drinking alcohol only in moderation, lower their risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease.

The only one of its kind in Canada, the multidisciplinary program at the Diabetes Prevention Clinic sponsored by Sun Life is based at the Montreal Heart Institute’s EPIC Centre. This project was made possible by a generous $450,000 donation from Sun Life.

Progress of the Clinic’s 223 participants in 2020

  • 60% reduced their waist size / ↓ average of 5 cm
  • 48% lowered their circulating insulin levels / ↓ relative average of 7%
  • 58%* improved their glycated hemoglobin / ↓ relative average of 6.8% (*average blood sugar level over 3 months)
  • 24% increased their “good cholesterol” (HDL) / ↑ relative average of 6.6%
  • 66% lost weight / ↓ average of 4 kg (8.8 lb)
  • 52% improved their fasting glucose levels / ↓ relative average of 7%
  • 48% lowered their triglyceride levels / ↓ relative average of 8%
  • 54.9% of patients brought their fasting sugar levels and their glycated hemoglobin within normal range.
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