Researchers Study Diabetes in Native Americans - 8 News NOW

Paula Francis, Anchor

Researchers Study Diabetes in Native Americans

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Dr. Carolee Dodge Francis is a Native American and a diabetic, two factors that give her insight into the diabetes surge among American Indians. Dr. Carolee Dodge Francis is a Native American and a diabetic, two factors that give her insight into the diabetes surge among American Indians.
Dr. Benyshek is looking into whether a healthier diet during pregnancy among Alaska natives has helped them avoid the same spike in diabetes as tribes in Nevada. Dr. Benyshek is looking into whether a healthier diet during pregnancy among Alaska natives has helped them avoid the same spike in diabetes as tribes in Nevada.

Researchers at UNLV are studying the prevalence of diabetes in American Indian tribes in the southwest. The prevalence is nearly double that of tribes elsewhere.

Dr. Carolee Dodge Francis is a Native American and a diabetic, two factors that give her insight into the diabetes surge among American Indians. She now directs the American Indian research and education center at UNLV.

"We're starting to see clinical diagnosis of type-2 diabetes in ages 19 and younger. So that has a significant concern when you start looking at the consequences of the disease," said Francis.

Francis grew up on a reservation in Wisconsin. Her family relied on government supplied commodities which were heavy in fatty meats and cheese. Some blame commodities for depleting the once healthy Native American diet.

Francis says a surge in obesity and a lack of exercise have made matters worse. She's currently developing a K-12 program to help educate tribes about diabetes.

"But when you actually ask them, ‘What is type 2 diabetes?' then it gets a little blurry. So part of the other strategy we're trying to address is education," she said.

From his laboratory at UNLV, anthropologist Daniel Benysheck is conducting scientific research into the evolution of type-2 diabetes among Native Americans.

Among tribes in the southwest, diabetes prevalence is very high, a stark contrast to tribes elsewhere.

Dr. Benyshek is looking into whether a healthier diet during pregnancy among Alaska natives has helped them avoid the same spike in diabetes as tribes in Nevada.

"Some of my students and I are looking at the possibility that these diets during early development, during pregnancy and early prenatal life, has an effect on programming the metabolism and has some protective effects in respect to diabetes," he said.

The prevalence of diabetes among American Indian tribes in Nevada is 12-percent, while the average for the rest of the country is about 7-percent.

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