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Survey finds heavy health burden on Indian population
Monday, December 1, 2003

Native Americans suffer from chronic disease more often than other minority groups, according to research published on Friday.

Based on a survey of racial and ethnic populations in 14 states, American Indians exhibited the highest rates of obesity, smoking, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Indian men and women outranked African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians nearly 2-1 in some cases.

Indian men had the highest rates of hypertension and high blood cholesterol levels while Indian women had the second highest rates of these two conditions, according to the research. About 80 percent of Indians suffered from more than one chronic disease and a third had three or more, the survey found.

"The findings in this report indicate that [American Indian] communities bear a greater burden of health risk factors and chronic disease than other racial/ethnic minority populations," the authors wrote in last week's issue of the the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Despite the high prevalence of disease, the study found that American Indians were more likely to use preventive services than most other minority groups. Indian men and women are checking their cholesterol and having examinations for diabetes-related conditions at rates approaching the national average, the researchers discovered.

"The findings in this report underscore the importance of primary prevention in AI communities and the need for prevention strategies that emphasize lifestyle modification, including changes in diet, physical activity levels, weight control, and smoking cessation," the study authors wrote. "Because habits often are formed early in life and carried into adulthood, culturally sensitive prevention strategies directed toward children and young adults are needed if increases in obesity, diabetes, and other risk factors among [American Indians] are to be reversed."

The researchers said death rates for diseases and cerebrovascular diseases are lower among American Indians than the general population. But they said high rates of obesity, smoking and other factors will contribute to more deaths.

The findings in the study come from the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) 2010 project. The goal of REACH is to eliminate disparities in health status in the areas of infant mortality, breast and cervical cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and child and adult immunizations.

During 2001-2002, the CDC contracted with National Opinion Research Center at University of Chicago to conduct a REACH 2010 survey. Telephone and face-to-face interviews were conducted among two American Indian groups, 14 African-American groups, seven Hispanic groups, four Asian groups and five communities with multiple ethnic groups. The states covered were Alabama, California, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

According to the CDC report, 1,791 American Indians participated in the survey. Alaska Natives were not included. However, a REACH 2010 demonstration project is underway that will include eight American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

In August, the CDC released a series of studies outlining health disparities affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives. Researchers found that Native Americans suffer the highest rates of diabetes, injury-related death and respiratory infections in the U.S.

Get the Study:
Health Status of American Indians Compared with Other Racial/Ethnic Minority Populations --- Selected States, 2001--2002 (November 28, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service -

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