Arizona Report Highlights Obesity Crisis Among Native Americans

The recent overview of obesity from the Trust for America's Health revealed extremely high percentages of Native Americans are overweight and obese, especially in states where they live in remote locations.

Data from a recent report on the state of obesity in the United States show the epidemic has hit especially hard among Native Americans. A report from Arizona, where 81% of Native Americans were obese or overweight in 2013, highlights the challenges of addressing the crisis.

The report, “The State of Obesity 2015,” issued September 21, 2015, by the Trust for America’s Health, compiles data for all 50 states, but focuses on Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the 25 states where their population is large enough to be measured. The crisis of obesity among Native Americans contributed to 64% of the Arizona population being overweight or obese. Arizona had the highest obesity rate among Native Americans in the states studied.

A look at the data for Native Americans, appearing in Cronkite News, is consistent with the overall trends that show obesity in the United States is centered on states in the South and West. But Native Americans who live on reservations or in remote locations have particular barriers to healthcare that fuel the obesity epidemic.

Advocates for the state’s Native American population say tribes lack access to fresh food and vegetables, and health services can be up to 2 hours away from where the population lives. “The tribes are located in very remote parts of the state,” Kristine FireThunder, director of the Arizona Commission on Indian Affairs, told the news outlet.

Obesity and diabetes are so rampant that the solutions will require intervening with Native Americans when they are children.

The report attributed much of the problem to unhealthy diets as tribes abandon traditional practices, including growing their own crops. The labor it takes to grow an adequate food supply is time-consuming and uncertain, and Native Americans—like everyone else—find it easier to go to the grocery store and buy processed food.