Native American Views on Obesity Problem

Advances in society having negative impact on culture

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Native American culture does not view obesity as taboo, believing it to be ordinary, stating, "Some studies as well as anecdotal comments from Gila River Indian Community members indicate that AI/ANs [American Indians/Alaskan Natives] view overweight/obesity as normal and healthy," says Dr. Peggy Halpern.This mentality is the result of limited education in regards to nutrition, a lack of physical activity, and a deficient diet. Native American communities have attempted to combat the epidemic of obesity through various intervention programs designed with native people in mind. These programs aim to introduce exercise facilities, nutrition education, and overall healthy lifestyle changes. Intervention programs tailored to Native American communities are in the early stages and their longevity is uncertain. Regardless, there is a conscious, decided effort on the part of native people to improve their lifestyle and return to their ancestral eating habits.

Unfortunately, the Native American Healthcare system fails to provide adequate care for the people living with diabetes. According to Robert North, Director of Development and Operations at Boys & Girls Club of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, native people living on the poverty line have poor healthcare. The poorer the quality of health, the less care is provided. Therefore, the individual battling with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes as a result of obesity is not likely to receive healthcare benefits because he/she has poor quality of health, which places them at a higher risk of developing complications and incurring greater cost as a result of treating the imminent health issues.

North goes on to state that most Native American communities have focused their attention on future generations and the hope of conquering obesity, diabetes, and the various other threats to native people's health, through early education and prevention programs. North believes in the advantages of early education, stating that children are the most logical group to concentrate on because adults have difficulty changing their behavior to adopt a healthy lifestyle, whereas children are easier to mentor down a positive, healthy road. However, North argues that there needs to be more health education programs instituted for children as they advance toward adolescence to ensure proper living throughout life. He argues that the major obstacle to ensuring the existence of health education programs is funding, which the federal government provides little of and the majority of which comes through private charities or grants. North believes the lack of funding prevents native people from doing all that is necessary for their children's health, and the health and survival of their culture.

Early intervention is the best hope for Native American people, but advances in technology still threaten their health, and the health of all people, due to its emphasis on a sedentary lifestyle. Video games and social networking sites have ushered in a culture of laziness that North fears may cause the continuation of immobility and poor health amongst all people, Native Americans included. Physical activity, which was once a major part of the Native American culture, has diminished and groups like the Boys & Girls Club promote exercise and outdoor activity to allow children the opportunity to live healthy, happy lives, "Our reservation communities have gone through dramatic changes in recent years" North said,"and we need to direct these clubs as the new center of our youth's universe."

Reviewed by Joy Pape, RN, BSN, CDE, WOCN, CFNC. 2/13

Last Modified Date: May 17, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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