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Diabetes rates explode in Indian Country
WEDNESDAY, MAY 7, 2003

It will take at least $1.3 billion to combat skyrocketing rates of diabetes in Indian Country, federal health officials were told on Tuesday.

Speaking at a day-long consultation session in Washington, D.C., Alvin Windy Boy, chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Montana, came armed with pages of statistics about the disease. He cited an unprecedented rise in diabetes among American Indians and Alaska Natives of all backgrounds.

In the past decade alone, he said, Native Americans ages 20 through 29 saw a nearly 60 percent jump in diabetes cases. A nearly 70 percent increase occurred in the 30-40 age group.

Diabetes is showing up in younger Natives, Windy Boy added. There has been a 25 percent increase since 1990, he said.

"For every age group," he said, "the prevalence is highest in Indian Country than any other group."

Significant assistance in combating the problem comes from the federal government. Through the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, which is being funded with $750 million over the next five years, tribes and Indian health organizations have treated diabetes, provided specialized care, developed culturally-specific programs, changed eating habits and raised awareness.

But more money is needed to treat the 100,000 known cases of diabetes in Indian Country, Windy Boy said An estimated 30,000 Native Americans are unaware they even have the disease, he warned.

"This doesn't include diabetes prevention treatment," he said of the $1.3 billion figure needed to "stem the tide" of diabetes.

Diabetes is a condition that results when the body can't use energy from food properly, resulting in fatigue, increased appetite, nausea, increased thirst and blurred vision. The most common form in Indian Country is called Type 2.

Until the early 1900s, diabetes was almost unheard of among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Factors such as diet, exercise and lifestyle are believed by health researchers to have prevented the onslaught seen today, where as many as 50 percent of the adult population of some tribes has the disease.

Due to limited services, Native Americans often delay medical treatment until it is too late, said Greg Pyle, chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. He encouraged additional funding for routine screenings that can eliminate problems from preventable diseases like diabetes.

"Prevention still remains the key," he said.

If left untreated, diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure and amputations. It also contributes to high-blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

According to IHS statistics, Native Americans die from diabetes at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group.

Relevant Links:
Diabetes, Yahoo Health - http://health.yahoo.com/health/centers/diabetes
National Diabetes Program, Indian Health Service - http://www.ihs.gov/MedicalPrograms/Diabetes/index.asp

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Congress approves $750M for Indian diabetes (11/21)
Responsibility said key to diabetes fight (11/12)
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Screenings urged for new diabetes condition (3/28)
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