Healthy lifestyles are needed to reverse obesity trends. But new data shows stability in Native American youth, a first step in reversing the trend. (National Institutes of Health photo)
The most fundamental question about government is this: Does it work? When does government — tribal, state or federal — actually make a difference in our lives?
There are two ways to answer that question, data and story. Data tells what happens over time. But story is what we tell ourselves about what works, and more often, what does not work.
Ideally data and story lead to the same conclusion.
But when telling a story it’s awfully difficult to report that things are kinda, sorta getting better. We humans want clarity, a success story, right?
Yet progress is often measured slowly.
This is Trahant Reports.
We know there is an epidemic of diabetes in Indian Country. It’s a story that’s told often. Yet it’s also true that adult diabetes rates for American Indian and Alaska Natives have not increased in recent years, and there has been a significant drop in both vision-related diseases and kidney failures. Incremental progress.
A new study published last month by the American Journal of Public Health concluded that American Indian and Alaska Native youth still have higher rates of obesity than the total population, but those rates have remained constant for a decade. In other words: The problem is not getting worse.
This report is remarkable because it reflects a huge amount of data – reports from at least 184,000 active patients in the Indian health system. Most scientific studies rely on a small sample group, making it difficult to compare regions or even break down the data by gender or age.
To put this report into a policy context, think about the hundreds of programs that are designed to get Native American youth more active.
This is timely data because Congress must soon reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. And this report is evidence that $150 million program works and it’s also worth a continued investment by taxpayers. (Remember: Chronic diseases, such as diabetes, are by far the most expensive part of health care. Every dollar spent on prevention saves many, many more down the road.)
The goal of course must be a decline in overweight and obesity statistics, not just stability. (And one warning sign in the report is that there was a slight increase in severe obesity, even while the general trend was stable.)
Obesity among Native Americans is relatively new, seen in only in the past few generations, so there is much that can be done to reverse the trend. And that starts with making sure the problem is not getting worse. Then we can get healthier. Kinda, sorta.
I am Mark Trahant.