Native Village Youth and Education News
October, 2009


New program to tackle diabetes among young Indians
By Susan Montoya Bryan
Condensed by Native Village

  American Indians are three times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than any other group. More than 15% of American Indian youth have diabetes, and more are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes -- a form normally seen in adults.

Thanks to tribal leaders, educators, and federal health officials, a new and free curriculum tackles the disease among children.  It has been tested in several tribal schools. Now officials want to introduce the program to more schools in New Mexico, Arizona and parts of Colorado and Utah.

"It starts now," said Carol Maller, project director at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute.

The other tribal colleges participating in the project are: Cankdeska Cikana Community College (Fort Totten, ND; Haskell Indian Nations University (Lawrence, KS); Fort Peck Community College (Poplar, MT); Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College (Baraga, MI); Leech Lake Tribal College (Cass Lake, MN); Northwest Indian College (Bellingham, WA); Stone Child College (Box Elder, MT). 

The new diabetes curriculum is part of the national Diabetes Education in Tribal Schools project. It focuses on teaching K-12 children how to

Make healthy choices when it comes to eating and exercising
Keeping one's life in balance
 Ask questions
Learn through hands-on activities.

Carolee Dodge Francis from UNLV's American Indian Research and Education Center said many students don't know what diabetes is, but may know of someone who has it.   "We tell them it's not a contagious disease and there are ways to prevent Type 2 diabetes," Francis said. "Getting them at an early age, it's really critical and it really helps them in changing their perception of lifestyle."

The added benefit is that the children go home at the end of the school day and share the information with their families.

"What we're seeing is concentric circles," Francis said. "You throw a pebble into a pond and you see the circles go out and out and that's really what's happening with the curriculum."

It's also hoped the diabetes education program  will inspire Indian children to pursue jobs in the medical and science fields and return home to help their communities.

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