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Dr. Jonathan (Jon) McGavock, Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Child Health, University of Manitoba

Research highlights/discoveries:

  • How using a holistic approach to health and wellness can help prevent and treat type 2 diabetes in Indigenous youth and improve quality of life

Dr. Jon McGavock at a glance:

  • Appointed Professor at the University of Manitoba (2021)
  • Held CIHR Applied Public Health Chair (2014-2019)
  • Received CIHR New Investigator Award (2010)
  • Awarded Diabetes Canada Scholar award (2008)
  • Earned PhD at the University of Alberta (2004)

How did you get interested in diabetes research?

When I was doing my PhD in Edmonton, I was really interested in exercise and its impact on health. Then my cousin got diagnosed with diabetes, and that got me reading the literature around exercise and diabetes. It was fascinating to discover how powerful the effects of exercise can be on improving blood sugar control and complications related to diabetes, such as heart disease. From then on, it’s been about finding ways to better integrate exercise and diabetes.

What about your interest in Indigenous youth?

While working in a pediatric diabetes clinic in Winnipeg, I kept seeing Indigenous children coming in for treatment. I discovered that Indigenous youth from northern communities are 10-20 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to other children. I knew I needed to figure out strategies to help children in these communities, which typically face poverty, lack of access to care and healthy foods, as well as overall systemic racism stemming from colonization.

How did you find a solution?

I approached it as a social issue rather than a strictly biological and physiological one. I began working with Indigenous scholars and others living in these communities to figure out the societal issues that were creating barriers to healthy living. In 2006, we got our first grant to work with Garden Hills First Nation and set up some programs in the community. We’ve been going strong ever since.

Tell us about the program.

Rather than focusing on healthy eating and exercise only,

we adopted a model that includes elements of resilience, Indigenous teachings and peer mentoring to empower youth to become leaders in the future. We discovered that not only does this kind of program reduce risk factors for diabetes, [but] it improves quality of life.

With funding from Diabetes Canada, we were able to scale up and offer the Indigenous Youth Mentorship Program in other communities in Manitoba and eventually other provinces. Now we’re up to about 1,000 children involved in the program every year.

How old are the children in the program?

We offer the program to children from nine to 11 years old, but it’s delivered by adolescents in the community aged 14-18. Those entering the program eventually become mentors themselves.

What’s next?

We’re studying the impact of bringing together multiple Indigenous communities to share their knowledge and experiences with each other. What we’ve seen so far is that being connected to peers who are facing similar things and are trying to improve their well-being together is very powerful. We want to see this program, run by Indigenous youth, incorporated into all Indigenous communities across Canada.

Want to hear more about Dr. McGavock’s work? Listen to his interview on the Diabetes Canada Podcast.


The last word

Dr. McGavock has taken a systemic problem in Canada’s Indigenous communities and found a viable solution that respects the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, and that goes well beyond improving diabetes care.”— Dr. Seema Nagpal, vice president, Science & Policy, Diabetes Canada

Did you know?

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin. Today, more Canadians have diabetes than ever before. Diabetes or prediabetes affects one in three Canadians. One in two young adults will develop diabetes in their remaining lifetime. We cannot wait another 100 years to fund vital research that can help End Diabetes. #LetsEndDiabetes Visit 100 Years of Insulin to learn more, including how you can support those living with or at risk for the disease.

Author: Rosalind Stefanac

Category Tags: Research;

Region: National

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