Message from the Executive Director
It is an honour and privilege to be the inaugural Executive Director of the Novo Nordisk Network for Healthy Populations. Thanks to a generous donation from Novo Nordisk to the University of Toronto, we have an unprecedented opportunity to find new and innovative ways to tackle the burden of diabetes and chronic disease.
Having celebrated the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto in 2021, the timing of the Network’s launch that same year couldn’t be better. This milestone anniversary is a beautiful reminder of how research findings can translate into life-altering benefits for millions of people.
Yet, for all the progress that has been made during the last 100 years, diabetes and related chronic conditions remain a major burden on individuals, families, communities, and health care systems around the world. An estimated 11 million Canadians – one in three – now have diabetes or prediabetes, with the majority living with type 2 diabetes. Rising rates of chronic conditions, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, have been linked to major shifts over the last three decades in how societies live, work, and play.
As a physician supporting people with diabetes, I see first-hand the effects of diabetes and related conditions on individuals and families. I am also keenly aware of our limits as healthcare providers in helping people stay healthy, given the many structural, social and environmental barriers that are beyond our control. I also see how socially disadvantaged groups have been hardest hit by diabetes and chronic disease, and face the greatest barriers to prevention and care.
The only way to stem this epidemic is to recognize the relationship between individuals and their environments. We need to target the root causes, with a focus on addressing the social determinants of health that are driving inequities. We will need to work concurrently at all levels of engagement – from the health care system where people seek and receive care, to workplaces, schools, and community groups where people spend their time, and to neighbourhoods and cities where people live and breathe.
Much research has been done to recognize risk factors and consequences of chronic disease and to identify effective interventions in research settings. We must now act on this evidence, by shifting our focus from describing what might work to showing what does work. Being one of the most diverse regions globally and having a mix of urban and suburban areas, Peel is the ideal setting to test strategies that can then be applied to a wide range of contexts, in order to share what we learn locally and spread the impact of our work across the globe.
The challenge ahead is a great one, and it’s one I am eager to tackle alongside this team of talented colleagues. Together, we can move from ideas to implementation and beyond with the same goal that inspired the discoverers of insulin: to improve the lives of those living with or at risk of diabetes.
MD, FRCPC, MSc