Diabetes among Native Americans

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases that causes unusually high blood sugar levels. Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetic factors and usually appears during childhood. This analysis is focused on Type 2 diabetes, which typically develops during adulthood as a result of poor nutrition and lack of exercise. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body fails to effectively use the hormone insulin to filter glucose in the blood to be used for energy production. When glucose accumulates in the blood stream, the body becomes sluggish and slow. Over a long period of time, damage to the eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart could arise. Diabetics, or those with diabetes, must constantly monitor their blood sugar levels to make sure they do not slip into a dangerously high or low range. Non-native Americans are 2.2 times less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than are Native Americans.

An insulin pump is a tool worn by many diabetics that externally regulates blood sugar

Why Native Americans?

It is estimated that at least 30% of Native Americans are either diabetic or pre-diabetic (meaning that they shows signs that they will develop diabetes in the future), and 95% of these individuals have Type 2 diabetes. Bodies are supposed to release insulin in response to high blood sugar, but when the concentration of glucose in our blood remains elevated for an extended period of time, the resulting stress is too much for the body and the mechanism responsible for producing insulin shuts down.

Historically, Native Americans have eaten food harvested naturally from the earth. Until relatively recently, their diet has consisted of organically-grown crops, fruits, seeds and nuts, or wild game. This diet does not put an individual at risk for diabetes because it does not include an unhealthy amount of sugars. As American society developed and the country’s population began to spread, most Native Americans were relocated from their traditional tribal territory and forced onto reservations. Reservations are often located in barren areas that were of no other use for the federal government of the United States. It is very difficult to live off the land in these areas of the country because the land is often dry and unproductive. Poverty is another significant issue for Native Americans on reservations that further contributes to poor diets.

The poor quality of land means that Native Americans find difficulty producing their traditional diet of organic foods. Instead, they are forced to rely on the cheap, processed commodity food that the American government provides them with.