It’s a disease that affects 1 in 3 Canadians, but most of us know little about diabetes and how to prevent it. As Canada marks Diabetes Awareness Month in November, the focus is on encouraging Canadians to identify their risk of developing type 2 diabetes early and to make the right lifestyle choices to fight it, when possible.

Diabetes affects the ability of the pancreas to produce insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood.

“This disease has reached epidemic proportions,” says Rick Blickstead, president and CEO of the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA), which has developed a powerful diabetes awareness campaign in collaboration with Sun Life Financial to “bust some myths” through a simple online risk questionnaire.

“There are 11 million Canadians with diabetes or prediabetes – another person is diagnosed every 3 minutes – and we all need to do so much more to help them live healthy lives.”

Paul Joliat, Assistant Vice-President, Philanthropy and Sponsorships for Sun Life, says the company’s involvement in the campaign is part of more than $17 million it has committed around the globe since 2012 to diabetes awareness, prevention, care and research initiatives.

A recent Sun Life Financial Canadian Health Index survey shows that 1 in 5 Canadians believe they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, yet the majority have not been screened in the past 12 months.

“According to the CDA, there are more than a million Canadians living with undiagnosed diabetes,” says Joliat. “If we can help some of these people self-identify, we know that it can lead to potential intervention.”

Diabetes Awareness Month as well as World Diabetes Day on November 14 – the birthdate of Canadian Sir Frederick Banting, co-discoverer of insulin – helps to “shine a spotlight on diabetes,” Blickstead notes.

“This is currently an invisible disease. We need to make it visible so we can take action – end its health complications, end the stigma attached to it and, through research, end diabetes altogether.”

Knowing the risk factors related to diabetes, which can include being overweight, having high blood pressure, having high blood glucose levels and having a family history of the disease, can help people make lifestyle choices, such as healthy eating and increasing physical activity, to reduce their risk or even stop them from developing type 2 diabetes.

Blickstead says that diabetes contributes to 30% of strokes, 40% of heart attacks, 50% of kidney failure requiring dialysis and 70% of non-traumatic amputations. It’s also a major cause of blindness.

“These complications account for a great deal of the impact of this disease,” says Blickstead. “We need to make the connection between them and diabetes in the minds of Canadians.”

Taking the 2-minute online CANRISK test can help people understand their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and, in turn, make healthy changes or persuade people to discuss type 2 diabetes with their healthcare providers, Joliat points out. “Early diagnosis and awareness can make all the difference.”

Blickstead also encourages people who may be at low risk now to take the test yearly.

“Your risk can change as you age,” he adds. “Arming yourself with information is a great way to take charge of your health.”

Could you be at risk for type 2 diabetes? Take the online CANRISK questionnaire and find out.