‘Sugar Has Crept Into Our Diets’: NB3 Summit Unites Indian Country to Change That

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“As one of the leading contributors to obesity, our Native children are not only being exposed to sugary drinks early in their life, but they are drinking them at such high rates that they are more susceptible to chronic diseases, like diabetes and tooth decay,” said Olivia Roanhorse, Diné, director of Native Strong: Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures, a national program of the Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation.

Consumption of sugary sweetened beverages has increased by 500 percent in the last 50 years, and the effects on Native youth and Indian country are deadly. The NB3 Foundation is doing something about that. NB3 and its Water First! Learning Community partners are hosting a Healthy Beverage Summit on February 8 at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s designed for learning and sharing, and provides space for networking.

Both local and national keynote speakers will share their efforts in reducing sugary drink consumption among children, including Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation, and Jim Krieger, founding executive director of Healthy Food America. Nez is an avid marathon runner and advocate for healthy living. Krieger is a nationally recognized expert in the development and evaluation of community-based programs to prevent and control chronic disease. Read more about the speakers here.

Water First! will share its initial grant efforts, and all attendees, including community members, organizations, agencies and leadership, will hear from one another and discuss ways they can work together to improve the health of Native children. “The particular issue of reducing sugary drinks is not a new topic for us, but rather with our Water First! Learning Community grants and this Healthy Beverage [Summit], is our more focused approach to address it,” Roanhorse said.

Roanhorse shed some insight on sugar consumption and Native Strong’s work:

Why is this so work important?

Sugar has crept into our diets at an incredible rate since we were kids. And this is due to a number of complex reasons that are not always in our control. We have gotten so used to it that we haven’t questioned the amounts or the direct impacts on our health or the health of our children. For Indian Country, we are seeing the health impacts early, with the high rates of childhood obesity and tooth decay. This doesn't have to be the case. We can reduce and even PREVENT these rates, but we need to start now.

How much progress have NB3F and its partners made in raising awareness of drinking more water and less caloric beverages loaded with sugar?

As an organization, through our health competitions and personal efforts to ‘walk the talk’ we have made great progress in reducing sugary drink consumption at the foundation – at our meetings and as part of our everyday culture. Outside of our foundation, we have supported healthy behavior efforts by not just our grantees (we have awarded $3.2 million to 61 communities across the country) but with our national events, like NB3Fit Day.

What's next?

We will continue to work closely and learn from our Water First! Learning Community partners as they identify community-led and asset based approaches to reducing sugary beverage consumption among their children and families. We are also looking ahead and planning the 2018 Healthy Beverage Summit to provide knowledge, resources, and strengthen relationships that are needed to drive innovative ways to denormalize the consumption of sugary sweetened beverages.

Olivia Roanhorse is Diné, originally from Window Rock, Arizona. She received her BA in Environmental Science in Biology from Colorado College and her MPH in Health Policy and Administration from the University of Illinois in Chicago. She started working at the Notah Begay III Foundation in summer 2012 and helped launch its national program Native Strong in August 2013.