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Setting up infrastructure to support more cycling is one way cities can promote healthier living in efforts to reduce the prevalence of type 2

Taking the best diabetes research and mobilizing it to deliver the best care and prevention strategies is one of the driving forces behind creation of a new applied-research network based in Mississauga, Ontario.

The Novo Nordisk Network for Healthy Populations was launched by Novo Nordisk and the University of Toronto in February 2021. This research collaboration of unprecedented scale was made possible by a joint $40-million investment by the university and the health-care company. They and the array of partners within the network are determined to take bold new action to address the worsening diabetes epidemic in Canada and globally, as well as other chronic diseases particularly prevalent in urban populations.

“I believe this visionary network has a high chance of achieving success in bending the curve in the rising rates of diabetes,” says the director of the network, Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, an endocrinologist and leading diabetes researcher with expertise in clinical care and population health.

“We have a lot of evidence that shows what is effective at preventing diabetes and reducing complications. But there is insufficient translation of evidence into action, and uptake of proven programs is very low around the world,” she says.

The network will seek to change that trend by developing research strategies in concert with Mississauga stakeholders and then rolling out interventions in the community.

Collaboration will occur among researchers from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and U of T Mississauga, and they will work in partnership with community stakeholders in Mississauga. These include city officials, hospitals in the regional provider network, Trillium Health Partners, and local public-health and community outreach entities.

“We want to implement effective, feasible and sustainable interventions and then show evidence of benefits. That means we need to have good data collection in place,” says Dr. Lipscombe.

“We’re aspiring to generate important evidence-based knowledge about the best ways to prevent diabetes and its complications, to be a resource of value to communities around the globe.”

Mississauga as the ideal field study

Mississauga is a microcosm of many settings globally, says Dr. Lipscombe, and its characteristics make it ideal as a field-study for diabetes interventions. It is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with a high number of newcomers to Canada and comparatively high representation of sub-communities disproportionately affected by diabetes, including South Asian, Indigenous and Black communities. The Peel Region, in which Mississauga sits, has one of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in Canada.

The network wants to prioritize research into these various groups at higher risk of developing diabetes as well as studying impacts in different neighbourhoods and built environments.

Using advanced technologies like AI to analyze large sets of population health data fuels this type of research, and that’s where the expertise of scientists like Dr. Laura Rosella comes in.

Cities can become amplifiers for diabetes. There are risk factors in the built environment, the neighbourhood you live in and the type of food access you have.

Adam Marsella
Director of External Affairs at Novo Nordisk Canada and Canadian spokesperson for CCD

Among her roles, Dr. Rosella is an epidemiology professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and holds the Canada Research Chair in Population Health Analytics. Her research has included using population health data to inform diabetes prevention strategies.

“Diabetes is a complex problem, and machine learning is a powerful new tool for dealing with this complexity,” says Dr. Rosella.

“My work includes building predictive models. Based on all this complex information, we ask, who will develop diabetes in the population? Then we can model and analyze targeted prevention strategies to find the best ones for reducing risk for those communities.”

The data and analysis tools are getting increasingly sophisticated, explains Dr. Rosella. “Using satellite images and data on how people move around a community can help us determine all of the facets of the environment that affect diabetes rates. That can bring us to making changes to transit and infrastructure as additional components of diabetes prevention.”

Cities Changing Diabetes

Mississauga has another connection to Novo Nordisk and to the goal of building healthier cities by tackling factors fuelling increases in diabetes rates.

In June of this year, Mississauga voted to become the newest and sole Canadian member of Cities Changing Diabetes (CCD), an international network of close to 40 cities across the globe – each committed to setting their own unique goals to lower obesity to reduce the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in their city and to unite stakeholders to realize those targets.

“Cities can become amplifiers for diabetes. There are risk factors in the built environment, the neighbourhood you live in and the type of food access you have,” says Adam Marsella, director of external affairs at Novo Nordisk Canada and Canadian spokesperson for CCD.

“The real power of CCD is the process of convening government, community leaders, public health and other stakeholders to come up with solutions fit for that city,” says Mr. Marsella.

“Mississauga has a solid foundation for succeeding with CCD. The city had already made tackling diabetes a priority and developed local policies such as its novel food and beverage policy and its cycling network.”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Diabetes Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.