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Research focuses on diverse risk factors that can lead to diabetes

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Researchers from across the province, including CHÉOS Scientists, gathered last week at the annual Vancouver Diabetes Research Day. This event focuses on the latest research discoveries in the area and is part of Diabetes Month, which aims to bring awareness to this pervasive disease and encourage action to address it.

According to Diabetes Canada, one in three Canadians have diabetes or prediabetes, and people at age 20 now have a 50 per cent chance of developing the disease.

People who have Type 1 diabetes can’t produce insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that controls the amount of sugar in the blood. People with Type 2 diabetes can’t produce enough insulin or their bodies can’t properly use the insulin they do produce.
Type 2 diabetes, formerly called “adult-onset diabetes”, is the most common form of the disease and is caused by several risk factors, some of which can be controlled (high blood pressure, smoking) and others that can’t be (ethnicity).

Dr. Annalijn Conklin

Two trainees supervised by CHÉOS Scientist Dr. Annalijn Conklin are currently working on studies to address some of the potentially controllable risk factors for diabetes and presented their work during the day’s oral presentation sessions.

Hadis Mozaffari, a PhD student in Nutritional Epidemiology at UBC, presented on a systematic review of the effect of dietary diversity on risk of chronic disease. The results of the review suggest that increasing the number of food groups in a diet as well as the diversity within food groups reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease.

This finding mirrors a 2016 study led by Dr. Conklin that found a similar health-promoting effect of dietary diversity.

Dr. Zeinab Hosseini, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UBC’s Collaboration for Outcomes Research and Evaluation (CORE), presented on work to identify the link between social relationships and obesity, a major risk factor for diabetes. The study, also co-authored by CHÉOS Scientist Dr. Nadia Khan, showed a significant relationship between social ties and waist circumference and body mass index.
However, while Dr. Hosseini’s study shows that social ties affect both men and women, obesity risk was associated with different social factors between genders and the magnitude and direction of the association was also different. Obesity risk was higher in women who were non-partnered and who had fewer social activities compared to their counterparts. Conversely, in men, obesity risk was lower in those who lived alone and had smaller social networks.

Dr. Conklin’s past research has also demonstrated the influence of social relationships on dietary behaviour and chronic disease risk.
These studies highlight the diverse causal pathways that can lead to diabetes and the need to consider and investigate the effect of sex, culture, and societal factors on these pathways.

Vancouver Diabetes Research Day is a trainee-led event supported through UBC’s BC Diabetes Research Network Grant for Catalyzing Research Clusters program.