A Canadian study has found that First Nations people are more at risk to develop diabetes in their lifetime, compared with the general population.

The study, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, estimates that eight out of every 10 First Nations people “of a young age” will develop diabetes in their lifetime, compared with five out of 10 in the general population.

Lifetime risk is defined in the study as the “probability of a disease-free individual developing the disease condition during his or her lifespan.”

To make the projection of lifetime risk of diabetes, researchers studied the health of approximately 2.8 million diabetes-free Albertans between 1997 and 2008, including 70, 631 First Nations people and 2,732,214 non-First Nations people.

In the general population, men were shown to have a higher lifetime risk compared to women.

Among First Nations people, seven out of 10 men and nine out of 10 women were shown to develop the disease.

The findings also showed that First Nations people will develop diabetes at an earlier age: First Nations men are at risk of developing 20 years before their non-First Nations counterparts, and First Nations women 30 years before non-First Nations women.

“These findings coupled with the observations that younger people had a higher lifetime risk of diabetes than their older counterparts indicate the importance of early mobilization of preventive measures against the development of diabetes among First Nations people,” the researchers said in a statement.

The study said that the “disease burden” is consistent with previous population-based studies that indicated a higher prevalence of diabetes among First Nations people.

The authors wrote that they hope the findings will help in health care planning and diabetes-prevention initiatives.

In a statement, study co-author Dr. Tanvir Chowdhury Turin said the changes required to decrease the lifetime risk of diabetes will need “buy-in” from a range of stakeholders.

“Thus, it will be important to communicate risk in a way that is understood by the general population and by health authorities,” said Turin, who works in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Calgary.

Dr. Jan Hux, chief science officer at the Canadian Diabetes Association, told CTV News Channel that she’s unsurprised by the findings.

“Diabetes is an emergency in Canada,” Hux said.

There are three causes of Type 2 Diabetes, Hux said: genetics, behaviour (such as diet and exercise) and environment.

“The third set of factors is less appreciated,” Hux said. By such factors, Hux is referring to “living in an environment that makes it difficult to pursue a healthy lifestyle.”

“For First Nations communities in rural areas, food security may be a real challenge,” Hux explained. “Their local store may carry very few fresh fruits and vegetables and what’s there may be unaffordable.”

Poverty and history are also important risk factors, Hux said.

“The encouraging news, if I can look for a silver lining in this, is that we know more than ever about preventing Type 2 Diabetes,” Hux said. “And if it’s caught at the stage of pre-diabetes, even relatively modest lifestyle changes can reduce that risk by over 50 per cent.”