At one time, the diet of Native Americans was healthier than that of most Caucasians. But a growing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, particularly among tribes in the southwest, is evidence that a shift in diet has had a major impact.
In today's "Dealing with Diabetes" segment, we visited a local reservation.
The Moapa Band of Paiute Indians live on a reservation north of Las Vegas. Type 2 diabetes is a growing concern here.
Nurse practitioner, Bill Emerling said of the 400-or-so residents, 70 have been diagnosed with diabetes.
Juanita Kinlinchinie was diagnosed 5 years ago. She was born and raised on the reservation -- and has been a witness to the introduction of diabetes among her people.
"Yes, when I was a little girl, there was no diabetes here. No hypertension. Nothing of any kind. People use to... old people use to walk a lot back then," said Kinlinchinie.
Historically, the diet of the Paiute has consisted of fruits, vegetables, and wild game.
Darrin Daboda, Moapa Tribal Chairman said, "We believed in the holistic approach. And we respected mother earth and our surroundings. So when the settlers came in and introduced us to sugar, byproducts, it messed with our diet."
Eventually, sugar would become only a small part of a much bigger problem.
Nutrition researcher and author, Dr. Neal Barnard tells Eyewitness News that government commodities, consisting in large part of blocks of cheese and fatty meats, adversely altered the diets of many Native American tribes.
Barnard said, "I think the federal government has destroyed one tradition. That was the staple foods that was part of the Native American traditions. And they've caused a new tradition. And they've caused a new tradition to be built up. And that's the availability of just snack foods and junk foods."
An in-depth study of the Pima tribe illustrates the impact that diet has on the advancement of diabetes.
The Pimas who dwell in Arizona have a high occurrence of Type 2 diabetes. While the Pimas of Mexico have virtually no diabetes at all.
"And the reason is, in Mexico they're still eating beans and corn and simple foods. North of the border, those foods are forgotten. That tells us something very important. It tells us the reason is not genes. The reason is diet," said Dr. Barnard.
Darrin Daboda believes that for the sake of all Native Americans who are being impacted by diabetes -- the issue warrants more studies.
"Doesn't have to be our area... the Paiute area. Nationwide, more studies on Native Americans. There are some. But since we're the minority of all the minority groups, we're down the pedestal. Even if we're the only minority group that's recognized by the constitution," said Daboda.
Aside from dietary influences, it's also believed that a more sedentary lifestyle is a contributor to the rise in diabetes among Native Americans in the southwest.
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