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Chronic Conditions: Native North American Nutrition and Diabetes

Updated on October 3, 2016
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty uses advanced degrees in preventive medicine and health psychology in research and treatment for public and private health agencies.

Artwork from Native Mexican Americans
Artwork from Native Mexican Americans | Source

Indigenous heritage has been labeled a risk factor for Type II Diabetes.

Cultural and Genetic Heritage and Health

Diabetes seems to be attacking everyone in the 2010s. Two families I know are seeming opposites in nationalities, one British and the other Eastern European, but a great many in each family suffers insulin-dependent diabetes within Type II.

I know several people of a partial First Nations or Native American heritage as well that are taking insulin daily. At the same time, I know others of a range of diverse heritages (including Cherokee) that have controlled Type II Diabetes with diet and exercise. Nationality does not seem to be a deterrent in these particular cases.

Native Americans and First Nations have separate dedicated health divisions in their countries' federal governments from the "rest of the population", or perhaps in addition to the mainline departments. These peoples' Indigenous heritage has been labeled a risk factor for Type II Diabetes.

In fact, Type I Diabetes is rare, more so the farther north on the North American Continent one examines the inhabitants, in the home of the furthest northward Indigenous populations examined.

Our Indigenous Peoples Have 230% Higher Chance for Diabetes

Inuit People - National Cathedral, Washington DC | Source

Pima Nation may have the highest rate of diabetes in the world.

Diabetes and Nutrition Research Background

Canada's health services report that in 1960, First Nations showed an almost 0% rate of diabetes, but the condition it was already a problem in the USA.

By the year 2010, Type II Diabetes had become an epidemic among Native North Americans from Mexico up through USA and Canada. Mexico became the "most obese" of the three countries because of what they call Vitamin T - taco culture/cuisine. Mexican children were declared the most obese in the world.

In many cites and towns outside the Golden Horseshoe on the northwest and southwest shores lake Ontario, in northern areas where transportation is more difficult, First Nations are confronted with an abundance of junk food at high prices in the grocery stores. All this contributes to developing diabetes.

Healthy foods are even higher-priced -- For example, a 2-litre of milk in Sandy Lake cost over $6.50 CND in late October 2010.

The dream catcher in native health is used to help children "catch" bad dreams before they suffer nightmares. We need a diabetes catcher!
The dream catcher in native health is used to help children "catch" bad dreams before they suffer nightmares. We need a diabetes catcher! | Source

Our Indigenous Peoples Have 230% Higher Chance for Diabetes

National Insitute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

Part of the NIH, this health division publishes the related risk factors for our Indigenous Peoples of North America. The risk for Type II Diabetes among these peoples is rising.

In 2004, the NIDDK reported that 40% of all adults aged 40 to 74 in America were in pre-diabetes and therefore, at higher health risk:

Indigenous Peoples were 2.3 time (230%) more likely than whites who were not Hispanic to develop Type II Diabetes and its associated higher risks of stroke and heart disease.

New health promotion education programs were put into place on Reservations around the US, including Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. They have their own Diabetes Care Center and one of the recommendations is for the overweight to lose 5 to 7% of their body weight. This small start reduces the risk significantly.

The DCC is housed in a large building with examination rooms, a physical fitness room, a patient-family education conference room, a teaching kitchen, and office space, along with a certified lab and a pharmacy.

From 2004 - 2010, some positive results have been seen from the DCC, indicating that nutrition, exercise, and a small amount of weight loss can prevent pre-diabetes from becoming Type II Diabetes.

The percentage of Native Americans from Alaska down to the American Southwest that have Type II Diabetes increases from North to south from 6.0% up to over 29%. However, one nation, the Pima Nation of the Gila River AZ suffers a 50% rate of Type II Diabetes. Pima Nation may have the highest rate of diabetes in the world.

The highest rate in Canada is in Sandy Lake, Ontario: 25%.

When Native North Americans consumed more free range meat than westernized cuisine (fast food, etc.), they suffered fewer cases of diabetes.
When Native North Americans consumed more free range meat than westernized cuisine (fast food, etc.), they suffered fewer cases of diabetes.

Jobs with the US American Indian Health Service (IHS)

Jobs available and relative to Native Americans in the USA stood at approximately 3,000 vacancies during Autumn 2016. Many of these positions involve diabetes prevention and treatment in a portfolio of other duties.

Highest Demand Job Titles are:

  1. Physician Assistant
  2. Pharmacist
  3. Dental Officer
  4. Nurse Practitioner (NP with the RN license)
  5. Medical Officer (All Specialties)
  6. Dental Assistant
  7. Medical Technologist
  8. Practical Nurse (LPN)
  9. ER Nurses
  10. Community Health Aides

Jobs are open across the nation with the IHS and other companies in the states of Minnesota, Florida, and Alaska as some of the top job producers.

Medicine Man and patient in centuries past.
Medicine Man and patient in centuries past.

Recommendation to North American Indigenous Peoples

  • Lower the amount of fats in the diet.
  • Lower the amount of sugar in the diet.
  • Lower the number of calories eaten on a usual daily basis.
  • Eat healthier foods overall and eliminate pop or soda.
  • Exercise 30 minutes daily.
  • If you are pregnant or newly delivered, breastfeed your baby to prevent diabetes in your child. Breastfed babies are LESS likely to become overweight and to have Type II Diabetes later.
  • These are even more important for Native Americans in the Southwestern US States.

Native American Chiefs at the end of the Civil War, 1865.
Native American Chiefs at the end of the Civil War, 1865.

© 2010 Patty Inglish MS


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    • annaw profile image


      9 years ago from North Texas

      Great Hub the information you have provided is invaluable and so concise. Well written and researched.I learn something new every single day I live and I am thankful for people like yourself who help to raise awarness. I have bookmarked this Hub,and would like to share it with others.with your permission. Thanks again.

    • Support Med. profile image

      Support Med. 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      Nutrition and exercise is key. Diabetes is no respector of persons, so all of us, no matter the culture, have to eat the right foods and get plenty of exercise. Voted and rated.

    • shazwellyn profile image


      10 years ago from Great Britain

      Diabetes, therefore, is not prejudiced - it can affect each and every culture. Yes, some cultures are more vulnerable to it than others - as you have rightly highlighted here with Native Americans - British Indians/Pakistan are also vulnerable, due to their high fat diet.

      Evidence seems to suggest that a mediterraen diet is the best and this is what we, as a family, tend to eat - plenty of good fats from fish, veggies, olives and tasty high fibre breads.

      Thanks Patty for taking the time to help raise more awareness :)

    • purpleangel47 profile image


      10 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      Great article Patty. The Native Americans are suffering with the same issues as other communities of color - their cultural habits increase the possibility that they will develop diabetes. My hubmob focused on African-American issues, particularly my Dad's Type 2 battle with diabetes:

      Thank you for your hub!

    • ladyt11 profile image


      10 years ago

      Another great hub with good information! I'm learning some things just by reading your hubs on diabetes, thanks

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks for the additions. I agree that starchy commodity goods don't help the Type II Diabetes in any way. In fact, I didn't know that the commodities were so widely still in use. Thanks again, authorfriendly and Veronica Bright.

    • authorfriendly profile image


      10 years ago from Charleston, SC


      Great article. I used to be the Director of Behavioral Health for the Eastern Band of Cherokee, and we saw so much Type II diabetes that we had special clinics to target it. I think there were a lot of reasons why we see more, especially on the reservations, but some of it may have been the kinds of commodity foods that were handed out by the government, with foods you could count on to elicit diabetes.

      Author Friendly

    • Veronica Bright profile image

      Veronica Bright 

      10 years ago from Nebraska

      Excellent information! I am not familiar with the Canadian government, but I know that here, the government run food programs need to re-think their choices. Those in the Midwest, such as the Sioux on Pine Ridge, receive processed food products, rice, spaghetti noodles, etc. There are never any fresh foods, which only exacerbates the problem.

      Good advice, though, as always.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thanks for manking all these good comments! We probably think little about Native Americans having diabetes, although I heard about it in public health classes in the 1990s there are not many of the population in Central Ohio. At the same time, many people have some native heritage and do not know it.

      @stephhicks68 - the Canadian health services have posted that diabetes was almost nonexistant before 1960, so I wonder of they mean also Type I juvenile diabetes? Good news is that some research hospitals are doing partial-pancreas transplants that cure Type I - must be the Isles of Langherhans, which produce insulin. I'll look for news and post it.

      UPDATE - Mayo Clinic has a page about it:

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      10 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for such an eye opener. I never suspected the Native Americans would have problems with diabetes. I really learned a lesson here. Great hub.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Marshall 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hmmmm - didn't know there was a connection. I have diabetes, and both my mom and dad have Native American heritages (making me 1/4 total, or 1/8 of each of their Native American Tribes - Cherokee and Cree). Then again, I have Type 1 (juvenile diabetes) and the connection explored in this hub correlates to Type 2.

    • prasetio30 profile image


      10 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Good morning, Patty. This is another great hub from you. Again, you inform to us about how this disease looks terrible from day by day. I thought diabetes is also an international problem. Good recommendation for the people who get diabetes. Eating pattern by combining diet and doing exercise regularly is good treatment for diabetes patients. Rating up!


    • melpor profile image

      Melvin Porter 

      10 years ago from New Jersey, USA

      Patty, this is a good hub. Type II diabetes is epidemic in this country because of the high incident of obesity. If people stopping eating so much high caloric foods such as sodas and fast food the incident of diabetes will decline dramatically. Also, people must become more activity if they want to consume all these high caloric foods. That is what we have been doing for a while until the last 20 or so years.


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