The Truth About Diabetes In American Indian Children

It’s not ‘news’ that America is facing a chronic disease crisis.  Featuring highly on that list is diabetes, now affecting 10% of the American population , a figure which will inevitably rise.

What may be ‘news’ is the high level of diabetes among native American Indians who experience the highest incidences of the disease compared to any other social group (2.2 times higher than non-Hispanics).

It is the prevalence of type 2 diabetes among their children, however, which is a major concern.

The Facts

  • According to the National Diabetes Education Program, 215,000 children under the age of 20 have diabetes in the US.  These figures are rising. Every year 15,600 young people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and a further 3,600 with type 2.
  • The cases of diabetes among the Arizonian based Pima Indians are the highest in the world. Its effect on young Pima Indians was recorded as far back as 1979.
  • It is 14 years since the American Diabetes Association first raised the alarm about the growing problems of type 2 diabetes in American Indian children but the issues have not yet been resolved.
  • The ten years from 1994 to 2004 saw a 68% increase in diabetes in American Indian teenagers between the ages of 15-19. While updated figures are not yet available, they are likely to make grim reading.
  • American Indians represent the most deprived minority group in the US, with the poverty level for children living on reservations more than double that of the national average.  Unemployment rates are also soaring and limited access to healthy food compounds the issue.
  • All families with children suffering from diabetes face severe challenges – within the American Indian community those challenges are magnified.

What is being done to resolve the problems?

Positive Moves

Advances are being made in four key areas:-

  1. As the result of a formal treaty offered in exchange for vast expanses of land, the US government is obliged to provide healthcare to the American Indian tribes who signed those treaties.  This is provided through the Department of Health and Human Services, covering over one million American Indians.
  2. Since the late 1990s, the federal funded Special Diabetes Program for Indians and the Indian Health Service (IHS) has made significant progress in its efforts to reduce the incidence of diabetes in American Indians and their children.  2011 saw the launch of a new Best Practice for Diabetes Prevention which covers 20 areas relevant to diabetes treatment.
  3. The Center for Disease Control, coupled with state and territorial public health programs and other partners, is also working to reduce the levels of type 2 diabetes, especially in children.  CDC’s National Diabetes Prevent Program at present works with 17 American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
  4. A series of Eagle Books aimed at children between the ages of 4 to 13 emphasizes the importance of traditional approaches to health, including drinking water, eating local food and regular exercise.

It’s a start but will it be enough in the light of the chronic disease crisis facing America as a whole?

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, efforts must intensify to make a dent in the progress of this crippling disease.