Diabetes Among Native Americans

Diabetes among Native Americans has increased as an astonishing rate. At first thought it might seem as though diseases and medical conditions would have a relatively similar, if not the same, impact on diverse populations of people without any great variance. However, this notion has been refuted in any number of cases. Certain diseases are especially ruthless on populations in Europe or across the African countries. Some experts suggest that the obesity epidemic in the United States has caused the steadily increasing rate of diabetes among the American people. Given the symptoms and nature of diabetes, however, is there any real distinction when it comes to prevalence among certain ethnicities, creeds, or races?

Medical research has indeed suggested and ultimately documented that certain minority groups are at greater risk for developing diabetes. Even with a significant amount of research studies within the medical literature on diabetes, it seems that one minority group – despite a high rate of diabetes among its people – rarely is studied or documented within the literature. There is abundant research on prevalence of diabetes among Hispanic and African American populations. However, the rate of diabetes among Native Americans in the U.S. has barely been acknowledged let alone studied in any substantive way. The politics and legal implications of this situation are outside the scope of this piece, however.

Diabetes is a major health threat to Native Americans and there is an increase in diabetes among Native Americans. The issue being considered here, and the size of its population warrants attention and research. In a 2011 report published by the Indian Health Service, there are an estimated 1.9 million Native Americans (American Indians and Alaska Natives) residing in the United States (IHS, 2011). According to the Centers for Disease Control in 2011, there was an estimated 16.1% rate of diabetes among Native Americans (CDC, 2011). The National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse report of 2010 indicates that there is an especially alarming rate of diabetes — almost 35% — found among American Indian adults living in Arizona (NDIC, 2011). The statistics provided are not only significant but are also perplexing as to why this population is not receiving resources and services based on the increasing numbers of Native Americans that have been diagnosed with diabetes.

As long ago as 1998, certain conclusions had been reached and reported by the CDC about the high rates of diabetes among Native Americans, two of which seem most important:

  • Diabetes was becoming more common among women of childbearing age. This could subsequently increase early onset of disease among offspring, as well as serve as a cause of perinatal mortality and congenital birth defects.
  • The type of diabetes most commonly found among Native Americans is type 2. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with low levels of activity and obesity. Both of these risk factors can be modified, which means that efforts at prevention are an essential part of addressing the rising rates of diabetes among Native Americans (CDC, 2011).

Diabetes among Native Americans can clearly be modified. Why, then, does it continue to go grossly unaddressed?


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). National Diabetes Fact Sheet. http://ndep.nih.gov/

Indian Health Service. (2011). Indian Health Service Introduction. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.ihs.gov/index.cfm?module=ihsIntro

National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC). (2011). National Diabetes Statistics, 2011. http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/statistics/index.aspx#fast


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