Shannon and Kelly have been talking about our Champion for Healthy Kids project being sponsored by General Mills and being conducted on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation. This has me thinking about the connection between nutrition and the chronic disease and genetic disease that plagues the Native American people.
Did you know that 1 in 4 Native American households experience food insecurity – the highest of any ethnic group in the United States? Food insecurity includes resource constraints that limit the ability to buy food, concerns about running out of food, not eating so the children can eat, or experiencing persistent hunger.
A lack of adequate nutrition is directly linked to poverty. Typically, the least expensive foods provide more bulk or volume for a family but tend to be fatty or starchy foods with low nutritional value. The chronic disease rates in Indian country are a symptom of this poverty as well as lack of access to fresh produce and other healthy foods, a forced change in diet due to colonization, and lack of nutrition education.
- Diabetes is an epidemic for Native Americans. Compared to the national average, the rate of diabetes is 4 times higher on the Navajo Reservation and 3 times higher on Pine Ridge. Adult onset diabetes is on the rise in Native American teens, and NRC partners often indicate that 50% of their reservation communities have diabetes.
- Obesity is also an epidemic in Indian country. Native American children have the highest prevalence of obesity (20.7%) and a greater health risk in most major health categories compared to other races, including high weight-for-height body ratios and inadequate nutrient intake. Kelly mentioned that many Crow Creek youth endure obesity.
- Heart disease, which is linked to nutrition and obesity, is the leading cause of death for Native Americans.
- Cancer may be the first cause of death for Native American women. Cancer-related disparities for American Indians are higher than for any minority group in the country. This specifically stems from poverty and a lack of access to screening and high quality care but also from a lack of encouragement for health-promoting behaviors including adequate nutrition.
All of these maladies can be genetic diseases but they are also fueled by nutritional factors and exercise, both of which are critical to disease prevention and/or management. This underscores the need for childhood obesity prevention programs that address nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes early in life – like the Champions for Healthy Kids project National Relief Charities is planning for Crow Creek.