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Keep health in sight (Part three of a series)

WINNEBAGO, Neb. - A community that continues to battle diabetes and set up programs to combat the disease should be in the market to create a healthy community.

Not just a community that tends to its health issues, but an entirely new village with businesses, homes, a cultural center, and government offices in an attractive setting.

The Winnebago Healthy Village designed on the new urbanism concept of high density with attractive neighborhoods that encourage walking and other healthy activities, is about to emerge.

The new village will connect to the older town of Winnebago with walking paths which will allow people to travel by foot to the public school, Little Priest Tribal College, the new hospital, government facilities and get a close up view of bison owned by the Winnebago Tribe.

It all fits in with the current 100-mile program. People are encouraged to walk 100 miles and those who participate are given a pedometer to keep an accurate count.

An older, but useful gymnasium in the Black Hawk Center offered plenty of recreational activities both after school and in the evenings. The gym hosted basketball for young and old, housed free weights and exercise equipment. Recent closings of some of the facilities have hampered working toward the goal of a healthy and thinner community.

The tribal government holds the health issue at such a high level it offered to provide at least a half-hour per day for people to exercise. In addition to their lunch hour, the employees have one hour to exercise each day.

People who work in the Black Hawk Center were coming down with illnesses and it was discovered the facility contained black mold. After a three-month shutdown to solve the problem, some of the facilities did not reopen.

A community center was also closed due to black mold. And a major highway that brings goods to Sioux City is a health and safety risk.

Why the new village?

The common goals are to integrate mixed-use development that emphasizes urban design and healthy living with the existing community and to build on the past successes of the Whirling Thunder Wellness program with increased opportunities for active living for residents of the reservation.

The 2000 census reported that the population of the reservation is 2,588, of which 56 percent are American Indian. One-third of the Winnebago adults suffer from Type 2 diabetes. Incidence of diabetes among the Winnebago is nearly 9 percent higher than for the average citizen.

Nearly half of the Winnebago youth suffer from hyperinsulinemia, a predictor of Type 2 diabetes.

Alcoholism is another risk factor for diabetes. A new village, designed with health improvements in mind will greatly improve the statistics for the Winnebago people.

What is preventing the people from living an active lifestyle is the fact that they have to travel to Sioux City, Iowa, 20-miles away for basic needs. Most people live in rural settings in HUD housing developments that force them to drive to town for government services and other essentials.

Ninety percent of the housing in Winnebago is low-income federal housing. The Nebraska rate of home-ownership is 68 percent. The box-shaped HUD homes, tribal leaders argue, become a detriment to the community in how residents view their quality of life and in how outsiders see the community.

In 1950 a devastating flood destroyed many of the businesses in Winnebago, many of them never reopened.

The new village will solve many and most problems the old village has encountered because of the aging process.

A community center may contain an indoor pool, the wellness center, space for community meetings, funerals and wakes and other uses to replace facilities that were lost.

The city's only swimming pool, an outdoor facility, is in dire need of repair and tribal leaders claim the cost is more than a new pool would cost. So the possibility of a pool that would be used year-round is attractive.

With a combination of indoor and outdoor facilities connected to the new community where walking is encouraged and accessible, a healthy community can be developed and supported, tribal officials say.