Friday, December 12, 2008

Diabetes Among American Indians Targeted

“Diabetes is not inevitable, but for some American Indians, it feels that way, said psychologist Melanie Cain of the San Diego American Indian Health Center. ‘I have people tell me, 'I'm not diabetic, yet,' and I say 'Whoa, you don't have to be,' she said. It can be a difficult message to get across – that a healthy diet and regular exercise can stave off the extra pounds that can lead to diabetes. Fighting the diabetes problem was the focus of a conference in San Diego last week for about 200 health-care educators and other professionals working with young people at reservations around the West. The basic message: Concentrate on getting kids to eat healthy foods and move more. Diabetes is a particular concern with children. Nationally, American Indians top the charts in childhood obesity and diabetes. The same is true about obesity in San Diego County, where nearly a third of American Indians ages 5 to 19 were obese in 2004, compared with a quarter of the general population. Reliable diabetes statistics for Indians locally are hard to come by. But diabetes, particularly Type 2, is linked to obesity, and that is preventable. Preventing obesity can have lifelong benefits, said Dr. Dennis Styne, an expert on the issue and professor at the University of California Davis. ‘Once you become obese, chronically obese, that's where the body wants to stay,’ he said.Teens are a particularly difficult population to reach, said Dr. Dan Calac, a Pauma tribal member who is the medical director of the Indian Health Council, based on the Rincon Indian Reservation. ‘They're busy, they're really independent, the last thing they want to do is have a physician look at them,’ said Calac, whose clinic works with a consortium of tribes in North County. He hopes that recent efforts by tribes to build recreation facilities including ball fields, gyms and, on the Pala reservation, a skate park, will get kids to be more active. ‘Fitness was part of the motivation,’ said Kilma Lattin, a Pala council member, who noted children on the reservation were some of the strongest lobbyists for the park, which opened a year ago. ‘I personally have cousins that I've seen drop a lot of weight from skateboarding,’ Lattin said. That's more difficult on reservations without thriving casinos, said Lisa Turner, a nutritionist and diabetes coordinator with the Southern Indian Health Council in Alpine. The council offers martial arts classes in Boulevard and has a treadmill and stationary bicycle to encourage exercise, and she has seen people lose weight.”

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