Nutrition and Health on Native American Reservations

A diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthful whole food is a privilege for many Americans; however, it remains elusive for many Native Americans, especially those living in geographically isolated areas. Insufficient access to fresh and healthy food options continues to be an issue on at least 60 reservations in the United states, and this grim fact has an inordinate impact on the long-term health outcomes of those residents. As a result, occurrences of nutrition-related disease are still high among Native Americans.

Lack of access to healthy food choices have directly impacted the rate of diabetes for Native Americans. Today, Native Americans suffer from the highest prevalence of diabetes in the country, and the mortality rate of diabetes among Native Americans is three times higher than that of all other races in the country, according to the federally operated Indian Health Service (IHS).

Additionally, the Office of Minority Health (part of Health and Human Services) reports that Native people have higher rates of several risk factors that can lead to heart disease, including two that are nutrition-related: obesity and high blood pressure. Food insecurity among Native Americans is also especially detrimental to younger generations, as the issue of childhood obesity continues to gain national attention. Obesity in children is a common symptom of food insecurity, which affects 1 in 4 American Indian families. Diabetes among American Indian teens has dramatically increased; between 1994 – 2004, diabetes cases rose 68 percent among Native youth ages 15 – 19.

Because of the pervasiveness of this problem, and the adverse effects that touch all members of the community, Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) takes numerous approaches with reservation programs to combat food insecurity, including immediate relief and long-term solutions that support healthier communities.

These solutions include practical fixes, such as assisting the most vulnerable members of the community by delivering healthy food options on a regular basis. Programs like this solve an immediate need while shining a light on the areas where additional support is still necessary.

To learn more about what you can do to support PWNA’s efforts and help stave off the effects of insufficient nutrition for those dealing with food insecurity, please visit www.nativepartnership.org/nutritionhealth.

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