The Arizona Native American Caucus met this week to find ways to reduce the occurrence of obesity in communities across Arizona. Members agreed to work together to develop ways to bring awareness to the obesity issues in their communities.
“Obesity has reached epidemic status in our communities, and the occurrence of childhood obesity is on the rise,” Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), said. “If the upward trend is not reversed, there will be devastating consequences on the lives of our children and a burden on the cost of health care.”
Dr. Paula Hale, director of policy and advocacy at Our Health, Our Lives, Inc., provided the caucus with startling facts about obesity. She said that overall across the country, obesity is on the rise. She added that the problem is even more profound in most of the Native American communities in Arizona.
She explained that the obesity trend in Native American communities can be attributed to a number of factors including lack of access to nutritious foods, difficulty incorporating exercise into lifestyles, poverty and a lack of information and education about the effects of obesity.
“Native American women are 60 percent more likely to be obese. Additionally, in a recent study, 40 percent of Navajos 45 years old and older were found to be diabetic. We have not educated people enough about this issue,” Dr. Hale said. “We need to be educating people and giving them better choices.”
Rep. Hale agreed, adding that there are many misconceptions about nutrition in Native American communities.
“Many of the foods that we call traditional, like fry bread and mutton stew, are not really traditional,” he said. “Most traditional Navajo foods are corn based but we’ve come to call the unhealthy foods traditional because they are available now and are what we know.”
ICM Food and Clothing Bank Executive Director Renea Gentry and Director of Development Jacquelyn Ahrenberg also attended the caucus meeting. Ahrenberg said that in many communities it is easier to get a prepackaged brownie than it is to find fresh vegetables. She also said that there is a connection between poverty and high obesity rates.
“It is just easier to buy junk food if you are on a fixed income,” she said.
“This is a trend that is having devastating effects on our communities and our children,” Hale said. “It will take more than one discussion to reverse the damage that has been done but the level of commitment within the caucus is high. That will translate into direct action.”