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Scientists Mobilize To Conduct Nutrition Research Among American Indians

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
July 13, 2004

Agricultural Research Service scientists have identified several nutritional and physical activity factors that affect chronic health diseases among American Indians.

Jacqueline S. Gray, a postdoctorate researcher with the ARS Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center (GFHNRC) in Grand Forks, N.D., used a mobile nutrition research laboratory to access powwows and reservations to collect data. This month, she returns to the tribes to present research findings.

American Indian tribes, considered sovereign domestic nations, are among the most impoverished of minority groups in America. They experience a disproportionately high incidence of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Native Americans also have the highest per-capita suicide rate, nearly two-and-a-half times the national average and more than four times the national average among 15- to 24-year-olds.

The study was directed by psychologist James G. Penland and physiologist Henry C. Lukaski with the center's Mineral Nutrient Functions Research Unit.

More than 60 percent of the survey participants indicated they had a family member who had been diagnosed with diabetes. Food insecurity was a problem among 26 percent of those surveyed. That meant that during the previous 12 months, they had experienced various degrees of limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods.

Depression-related symptoms were found to be associated with poorer health, less exercise, food insecurity, higher body mass index in females, carbohydrate intake in males and tobacco use. Depression scores were highest among those reporting lower income, more children, and food insecurity. But they were lowest among those reporting a stronger identity with their native culture.

The resulting study data will be used for designing and implementing effective interventions to improve health and quality of life among American Indians. Gray and Penland are providing a technical report to all participating tribal groups for their use when applying for grant programs.

Read more about this research in the July issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.