Skip navigation
Timeline / Renewing Native Ways / 1979: Diabetes at epidemic numbers in American Indian communities

1979: Diabetes at epidemic numbers in American Indian communities

Nearly 17 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives have diabetes—the highest age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes among all U.S. racial and ethnic groups. Diabetes among Akimel O’odham (Pima) in Arizona is exceptionally high, with half the adults afflicted; 95 percent of those who are overweight are reported to have diabetes. Congress responds by funding a diabetes prevention program through the Indian Health Service.

Researchers and oral historians say that the genetic make-up that helped the Akimel O’odham in Arizona survive famine in the desert is not suited to the standard U.S. high-fat diet with limited exercise and constant access to food. While other tribes may have lower rates of diabetes than the Akimel O’odham, lack of access to traditional, natural foods and the abrupt change in diet and lifestyle from past generations are underlying causes of a surge in diabetes among all Native Americans.

Arctic, California, Great Basin, Great Plains, Hawai‘i, Northeast, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Southeast, Southwest, Subarctic