National Nutrition Month and Access to Healthy Food
“Put your best fork forward” now because March is National Nutrition Month (NNM). An education program offered yearly by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, this year’s theme is a reminder that every bite counts, and that small shifts in our diet can make a big difference.
For some people, though, this is easier said than done – not everyone has access to proper nutrition. Many Native Americans, for instance, are plagued by diseases presented through poor diets, most specifically diabetes in all ages and obesity in children. Diabetes rates of the Native population are more than double that of the white population, and many Native families grapple with affording a wide enough variety of food to get the nutrition they need. This reality is widely referred to as food insecurity, affecting 1 in 4 Native families, and is not helped by many of the food commodities provided to tribal members by the U.S. government, under their treaty obligations. Generally high in fats and carbs, and for that point, sugars, these elements only help contribute to the obesity and diabetes in Indian country.
PWNA supports Native American partners who are taking the lead on healthy diets and nutrition education in their tribal communities, working to improve native diets, health and wellness – important aims, especially for those who lack regular access to proper nutrition. One of PWNA’s recent innovations includes the use of a mobile unit for training and nutrition (MUTN), enabling collaboration with Native chefs and local cooks to introduce fresh produce and bring healthier twists on traditional foods to remote reservation communities.
These collaborative and community investment projects include community gardens; healthy cooking classes; training on canning, preservation and a return to traditional diets. PWNA’s mobile unit for training and nutrition is used during fresh produce distributions to demonstrate new ways to use produce and incorporate it into family meals. And all of these activities help support a return to a traditional, indigenous diet, which is free of processed foods.
Role models making healthier food choices today teach our youth to also make better choices and avoid the diseases that affect indigenous peoples everywhere. Of course, while these are positive strides, there still remains the need for more access to fresh produce in many remote communities. Later this month, we will be talking more about the impact of community gardens and food as medicine and food justice.