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War on Diabetes

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There are stupid wars and there are good wars. War on diabetes is good. Diabetes is a scourge on Native peoples. The antidote for diabetes is living and eating healthy. It is good for the body and the mind in every way to pay attention to diet and to move the body to spend energy and purify the lungs and blood.

Diabetes is a renowned killer of Indian people. The epidemic afflicts as many as 50 percent of the adult population of some tribes. It is on the increase at the moment and much more needs to be done. Type-2 adult-onset diabetes is particularly rampant in Indian country, attacking families at ever younger ages. This type of diabetes occurs when the body, overtaxed, can't process energy from food in proper ways. Native kids have three times the rate of this type of diabetes than the rest of the population. In the mainstream population, obesity and overweight increased diabetes by 30 percent during the 1990s. But a study by the Center for Disease Control indicated that Natives, aged 15 to 19, have the highest rate of type-2 diabetes in the country.

Diabetes, once it comes on, has no cure.

Obesity, indiscriminate over-eating and drinking; fat build-up from lack of activity are major contributors to diabetes. Recognizable symptoms include fatigue, increased appetite and thirst, nausea, blurred vision. If not confronted and controlled, diabetes will lead to blindness, organ failure, easy infections and amputations.

But diabetes is an often-preventable disease, when strong attention is paid to living a healthy lifestyle, controlling eating and drinking habits. What used to be an asset - the ability to accumulate body weight quickly along with a slow metabolism that could hold off starvation - is now a deadly physical attribute. Little or no regular physical activity combined with high quantities of high-fat and carbohydrate foods, and the body deteriorates quickly. Physical activity built into the day's routines and a revised diet, increasing the use of traditional Native foods - these have proven to be good preventative measures.

From Passamaquoddy country to Navajo country to Chumash country, many communities are tackling the problem head-on. Initiatives include moving back toward traditional foods diets, particularly beans, wild game, fish, roots and herbal regimens. Exercise programs, walking clubs and other regular opportunities to exercise, are excellent practical ideas that are also being implemented. Indian people need to stay strong, get healthy. Not to do so causes serious problems, always. Children need demanding physical challenge at early ages - walking, running, gardening activities are highly recommended. Always, medical supervision is a requirement. More and more, traditional healers and concepts are being brought into the prevention and recovery process. Simple, rigorous traditional lifestyle modes are encouraged.

Recognizing the plague of diabetes upon Indian country, the U.S. Congress recently voted to support the fight against Indian diabetes. In both the House and Senate, Congressional leaders authorized a record $750 million in funding to fight the growing epidemic of diabetes in Indian country. The money will go toward a five-year extension of the Special Diabetes Program for prevention, treatment care and research for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, singled out the American Indian population in the diabetes "disaster." The problem, which also has serious national implications, is overwhelming health systems in the state and nation, said the senator. The increased funding will raise the profile of tribal health programs. Appreciations are due to Senator Dominici, for his ardent and timely support in this tragic issue.

Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., was also (and again) instrumental in helping the tribal nations. Kildee, co-chairman of the Congressional Native American Caucus, a bipartisan group, often coalesces supporters in the Congress toward helpful pro-Indian legislation. He too is strongly championing the fight against the diabetes epidemic. We recognize his good will and positive energy toward Indian people in this regard.

Until not very long ago, type-2 diabetes was known only among adults. But it is showing up in Native children at earlier ages. Let us encourage the very best attention to this growing epidemic that is beginning to damage our people even in childhood.

The treatment of type-2 diabetes relies on improving healthy behaviors - ie., eating well and exercising more. That is the main avenue to a healthy mind in a healthy body. This regimen can also prevent the onset of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. It is even an antidote for mild depression. Family by family, school by school, clinic by clinic, we support the call to healthy foods and daily exercise. Indian country: Let's get healthy!