Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions among Native Americans, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Over 12% of all Indian populations in the United States suffer from type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes. The Pima Indians in Arizona have the highest rate of diabetes in the world—about half of adults between the ages of 30 and 64 are diagnosed with the disease.

In September 2000, the ADA announced its support for increasing funding of the Indian Health Service by $229 million for 2001 and is calling upon Congress to approve this additional funding. The ADA also congratulated President Clinton for his initiative to renew a five-year $150 million grant for treatment and care of diabetes in Native American communities.

Of particular concern to the agency is the high occurrence of type 2 diabetes among minority children, especially Native Americans. According to a recent Newsweek cover story entitled “Diabetes: An American Epidemic,” the rise in type 2 diabetes in youth is especially disturbing because of the potential for serious complications to occur at a much earlier age, compared with adult-onset diabetes.

Complications from diabetes are a major cause of health problems and death among all minorities, but especially Native Americans. These complications include:

• End-stage renal disease: Among people with diabetes, the rate of kidney disease is six times higher for Native Americans.
• Amputation: Each year, 54,000 people lose a foot or leg to diabetes; among Native Americans that rate is three to four times higher.
• Diabetic retinopathy: Native American populations are hit hard with this disease; it occurs in 24.4% of Oklahoma Indians.


In October 1999, the ADA officially launched its new community-based program, “Awakening the Spirit: Pathways to Diabetes Prevention and Control,” which provides information to Native Americans to help curb the epidemic rate of diabetes. “Awakening the Spirit” calls on tribal leaders, national organizations, community members and even Native American children from across the country to promote community wellness, the importance of healthy eating and physical activity.

For more information about diabetes and the work being done by the American Diabetes Association in Native American communities, call 1-800-DIABETES (342-2383) or log on to www.diabetes.org.

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