World Ark Magazine is produced by Heifer International, an amazing organization that empowers communities and addresses hunger. In the May/June issue of this year. Healing History is an article (on page 32) about how US Native Americans are re-discovering their food heritage and tackling their major health nemesis – diabetes.
North American Native Americans suffer unusually high rates of diabetes, so much so that being diagnosed with diabetes is no longer alarming. The subject of the article, Paul Smith, a member of the Oneida tribe in Wisconsin, has diabetes along with most of his family.
What’s to blame?
One answer is genetics. Type 2 diabetes does have a genetic component with high rates of incidence among full-blooded Native Americans. As a group, the rate of type 2 diabetes is more than twice as high as among whites.
A second answer has to do with major lifestyle differences of modern Native Americans compared to their fore-parents. Indigenous populations are choosing more wholesome, traditional diets less as fast food and convenience foods become so tempting.
Both of these answers hint to the role the diet and evolution and Thrifty Genes on this ethnic group.
To respond to this crisis, diabetes educators are advocating for a return to Native American diet traditions. Type 2 diabetes in this community is actually a diet-related illness and they are addressing this illness nutritionally. There is now a renewed focus on traditional Native American foods and diets – such as more legumes, fresh vegetables, squash, corn and beans and less convenient and processed foods. By eating like more like their great-grand-parents, today’s Native Americans are actually restoring the balance within their bodies, and improving their health and communities.