Childhood Obesity on Native American Day

Contemporary Indian DanceThere seems to be some confusion about Native American Day. One source says it is today, the fourth Friday in September. Another source says it is today, Friday, but designates the date as the 24th, which was yesterday. The big surprise is that it appears to be unconnected with Native American Heritage Month, which will occur in November, the month after next. The reason we’re talking about it here is because Native Americans have a higher rate of diabetes and childhood obesity than other ethnic groups.

In discussing this topic, we run into another area where matters are not quite clear. Most white Americans have, by now, been indoctrinated into accepting “Native American” as the only acceptable politically correct terminology. Yet many so-called Native Americans insist that the appellation was created by the white media, and they don’t like it. A large number of people from this heritage think “American Indian” is fine, but really prefer just plain old Indian.

Multiple award-winning author Sherman Alexie, who grew up on a reservation, has published books titled The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Toughest Indian in the World. An undated and puzzlingly unattributed academic paper from St. John’s University says this:

Alexie’s works are important because they raise awareness of problems that Native American communities around the country face, such as pervasive alcoholism and diabetes… According to the American Diabetes Association, 30% of all Native Americans (including Alaskan Natives) have pre-diabetes… There has been a 68% increase in diabetes between 1994 and 2004 in the Native American communities.

Historically, like the members of many indigenous cultures with grim economic situations, American Indians have regarded fleshiness as a sign of health and success. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

American Indian/Alaska Natives have the highest adult obesity rate, 54 percent, of any racial or ethnic group.

The prevailing custom is to include American Indians and Alaska Natives together in one cohort, familiarly known as AI/AN. Among this ethnic group, 31.2 percent of the four-year-olds were obese, as of 2009. Why the website of the National Indian Health Board does not have fresher numbers is not explained. In May of 2010, the NIHB issued a position paper titled “Childhood Obesity Prevention Initiative.” It explains that these children are at risk of…

…type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, asthma, sleep apnea, low self-esteem, depression and social discrimination…
And the top ten leading causes of death in the AI/AN population are heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, diabetes, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease, suicide, nephritis and influenza… all of which are exacerbated by obesity.

As if all that were not bad enough, a recent study found that in Alaska’s Native population, childhood obesity correlates highly with the witnessing of abuse and violence in the family. Poverty is widespread and the people consume an outrageous amount of sugar. Why do they imbibe so many sugar-sweetened drinks? Apparently, drinking water is not readily available. This article also gives more recent and increasingly distressing information about the obesity rates in various age groups.

On the brighter side, the Navajo nation recently became the first part of the United States to impose a tax on junk food.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Native American vs. American Indian: Political correctness dishonors traditional chiefs of old,” NativeTimes.com, 04/12/15
Source: “Humor for Social Change,” Digication.com, 2015
Source: “New Report Finds 23 of 25 States with Highest Rates of Obesity are in the South and Midwest, RWJF.org, 09/21/15
Source: “Obesity Prevention/Strategies in Native Youth, NIHB.org, undated
Source: “Study suggests link between domestic violence and obesity in Native children,” ADN.com, 05/23/15
Image by Jeff Kubina

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