How Diabetes is Affecting Native American Tribes

Published February 24, 2019

Native Americans are facing a health crisis. Over the recent years, more and more Native Americans are finding themselves at risk for diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

It has been observed that non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, or NIDDM, is the only type of diabetes that occurs among Native Americans. The high levels of glucose in the body can lead to complications that affect the overall health and well-being of an individual. These include but are not limited to: renal failure, vascular damage, visual impairment, nerve damage, reduced mobility, as well as a compromised immune system. Such major effects to the body can reduce the life expectancy of a Native American with diabetes.

But such health issues do not only affect the individual; it can even affect the next generation of Native Americans. A 2018 study by Jeff Dennis examined the prevalence of low birth weights among American Indian and Alaskan Native mothers, following the ‘weathering hypothesis’ posited by Palacios and Portillo in a separate study in 2009. The weathering hypothesis was first presented by Arline Geronimus in 1992 which suggests that exposure to cumulative incidences of stress, trauma and socioeconomic disadvantages can lead to the deterioration of the health of African American mothers in their early adulthood.

Using data from the 2014-2016 US Birth File, the study found that relative to white mothers, incidences of low birth weights were more common as American Indian and Alaskan Native mothers aged. Birth outcomes become increasingly unfavorable with age, which can lead to a host of problems that are not just limited to the health of the child or mother.

Coupled with the numerous health risks that come with older age, some American Indian and Alaskan Native mothers are not entirely opposed to surrogacy. In a bid to seek more information, searches for surrogacy have increased in the past 3 years.

Other studies have also explored the impact of health issues on pregnancy among Native Americans. In 2017, a study was made to examine the relationships between race, maternal risk factors, and infant birth weight. Using data from the South Dakota Department of Health, it was found that Native American infants had greater birth weights on average than non-Native American infants. The study confirmed that the high infant birth weights were due to the prevalence of diabetes and obesity among Native Americans, a health concern that has since been observed in multiple studies.

There is very limited knowledge as to why diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure is becoming more and more prevalent among Native American tribes. But in an effort to reduce the risk of stroke among Native Americans, numerous institutions have made concerted efforts to curb these health risks.

The Urban Indian Health Institute, for one, has awarded grants to organizations for the development of diabetes prevention programs and other similar seminars and services.

Educational programs have been launched among multiple tribes to teach Native American tribes and encourage them to adopt healthier lifestyles to help reduce the risk of diabetes and lower the prevalence of obesity, especially among the younger Native American population.


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  1. Steve simmons 7 months ago
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