"That meant that during the past 12 months, those 16 percent experienced
limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe
foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in
socially acceptable ways," Penland says.
Depending on income and availability, many American Indians' diets
are based on government-provided commoditiesfoods that are very
different from traditional native fare. To learn more about the effects
of these differences on such a diverse population, the researchers collected
information from participants about the types of foods they'd eaten
during the last month.
"Future research could reveal whether there is a difference in
blood sugar control between those who consume a diet composed of traditional
native foods and those who consume a diet of commodities foods,"
Measuring the extent of depression among the participants was also
key. "We found that depression questionnaires originally developed
for use with the general population could successfully be used with
Northern Plains Indians," she says. Measures of depression were
found to be strongly associated with measures of generalized distress.
The researchers also found that depression-related symptoms were associated
with poorer health, less exercise, food insecurity, and tobacco use
in both males and females, and with carbohydrate intake in males and
higher body mass index in females. Overall, factors such as gender,
socioeconomic status, and a strong cultural identity were found to significantly
influence self-reported depression scores taken from the questionnaires.
Depression scores were higher in those reporting lower income, more
children, and food insecurity. Depression scores were lower in those
reporting stronger identity with native culture and language.
Last, on many reservations, diabetes proved to be the major issue.
More than 60 percent of participants indicated that a family member
had been diagnosed with it. The researchers also found instances of
chronic health problemssuch as kidney and heart diseasethat
could be traced back to diabetes.
Results To Buoy Grants
When they received permission to do the study, the research group pledged
to return to the reservations after the data had been analyzed. They
promised to share and discuss the results with the tribes before they
were published, so that the tribes could remain in control of, and engaged
in, the process.
Tribal representatives hope the research data will provide a foundation
for programs to identify, prevent, or treat health problems such as
diabetes and obesity, as well as to fund health-education programs highlighting
the link between nutrition and chronic diseases.
"Once the final analysis is done, we'll prepare a technical report
for each tribal group. That data will then be available to them as a
reference when applying for grants," says Penland.By Rosalie Marion Bliss,
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Human Nutrition, an ARS National Program
(#107) described on the World Wide Web at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
To reach scientists mentioned in this article, contact Rosalie
Bliss, USDA-ARS Information
Staff, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705-5129; phone (301)
504-4318, fax (301) 504-1641.
"Breaking Barriers to American Indian Nutrition Research"
was published in the July
2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.