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"So many of my female relatives had diabetes when I was growing up that I didn't realize how dangerous it is. My wake-up call came when my mother had a massive heart attack at a young age. I started looking around and realized how many of my female relatives with diabetes died of heart problems. Diabetes is high among American Indians, but my sisters and I just weren't taught about what could happen if you had it, or that it could be prevented.
I was diagnosed with diabetes three years ago — only six months after my mother died from a second massive heart attack. A lot of Comanche women don't talk about their health, but I'm trying to be open with my kids about diabetes and educate them about how to eat better and get more exercise.
I tell them that they're doing these things for me, but more importantly for their own health and their own children's lives as well. I know that if I don't change things in my life, I might not live to see my grandchildren. Every day, I talk myself into doing things for my health, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, eating more fruits and vegetables. These things haven't become habits for me yet, but I'm working on it."
Diabetes is a disease that causes blood sugar levels to be too high. Over time high blood sugar levels can hurt many parts of your body, such as your skin, mouth, kidneys, heart, nerves, eyes, and feet. It can even cause death.
Type 2 diabetes — the most common type of diabetes — is a serious health problem for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Rates vary across regions, with almost 1 in 3 American Indian adults in southern Arizona having diabetes. The number of American Indians and Alaska Natives who have diabetes is growing rapidly, especially among young people. Because native people tend to get diabetes at a younger age, they also have a higher rate of related health problems. Diabetes has been shown to be a very important risk factor for heart disease among American Indians and Alaska Natives.
You can't control some risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as your age, race, or family history. But you can prevent or delay developing type 2 diabetes by taking these steps:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) to see if you're at a healthy weight.
- Eat low-fat, well-balanced meals.
- Make physical activity a habit. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
- 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
- 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
- A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
- Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days of the week
- 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
- Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day.
You could have type 2 diabetes and not know it. Type 2 diabetes sometimes has no warning signs. Talk to your doctor about diabetes in your family. Get your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels checked regularly, as advised by your doctor. If you find out you have diabetes, you can take steps to manage the disease and live a full and active life. Making healthy eating and physical activity a regular part of your family life also will help to lower your loved ones' risk of diabetes.
There are other forms of diabetes:
- Gestational diabetes is too high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. American Indian and Alaska Native women have higher rates than non-Hispanic white women. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy. But you are at higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life.
- Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body's immune system attacks and destroys insulin-making cells. It is far less common than type 2 and often starts in childhood. There is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Explore other publications and websites
American Indian and Alaska Native Women's Health — This site offers information for health service providers and consumers about American Indian and Alaska Native women's health. It discusses cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, cardiovascular disease, and access to care.
American Indian Health — This website is an information portal to information about the health of native peoples of the United States. The topics include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and environmental health.
American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Diabetes — Diabetes is one of the most serious health challenges facing American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States today. This website provides publications that offer information and statistics on the risks and complications associated with diabetes.
Diabetes and Native Americans (Copyright © American Diabetes Association) — This flier describes resources available to the Native American public from the American Diabetes Association, including educational materials online and their call center.
Diabetes Risk Test (Copyright © American Diabetes Association) — This interactive tool can help you determine your risk of diabetes. It includes information on prevention, how to cope, and more.
I Can Lower My Risk for Type 2 Diabetes: A Guide for American Indians — This booklet was written with a special focus on American Indians. It defines diabetes and reviews the signs and symptoms of the disease. It discusses the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes and ways it can be prevented.
Knees Lifted High — This children's book is about fun outside activities that kids can do. It is the third book in the Eagle book series, which was designed to help prevent diabetes among Native American children.
Plate Full of Color — This children's book is about all the colorful fruits and vegetables that nature provides. It is the third book in the Eagle book series, which was designed to help prevent diabetes among Native American children.
Take Care of Your Heart: Manage Your Diabetes — This publication encourages American Indians/Alaska Natives to keep their hearts healthy by taking control of diabetes. Some useful tools provided are suggestions on how to reduce the risk of heart disease, and charts for people to keep track of their blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.
The Diabetes Epidemic Among American Indians and Alaska Natives — This publication answers common questions about the diabetes epidemic among American Indians and Alaska Natives, including questions about cardiovascular health and diabetes.
Through The Eyes of The Eagle — This children's book breaks down barriers that people have about health and diabetes. It is the first book in the Eagle book series, which was designed to help prevent diabetes among Native American children.
Tricky Treats — This book will help your child learn to make healthy food choices to prevent diabetes. It explains which snacks are okay to eat every day and which ones you should only eat sometimes, and why.
We Have the Power to Prevent Diabetes — This fact sheet encourages American Indians and Alaska Natives to prevent type 2 diabetes by following 7 steps: move more, eat healthy, take off some weight, set goals you can meet, record your progress, get help, and keep at it.
Connect with other organizations
American Diabetes Association
CDC's WISEWOMAN — Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation
Indian Health Service
National Diabetes Education Program
National Indian Council on Aging
National Indian Women's Health Resource Center (NIWHRC)
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIH, HHS
Office of Minority Health, HHS
Content last updated May 18, 2010.
Resources last updated May 18, 2010.
A federal government website managed by the Office on Women's Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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