Government and Regulations

Reducing Obesity Among Native American Populations

IHS Health Promotion and Disease Prevention coordinator Freda Carpitcher hopes Native American populations will return to indigenous foods to help lower high obesity rates.


Rates of obesity have topped 35% in Arkansas, West Virginia, and Mississippi. In 22 other states, the rates are above 30%. In fact, the rate in every state is above 20%—even Colorado, with its healthy image, is at 21%. Those disturbing facts come from the CDC, as analyzed in the annual State of Obesity report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to an article in Native Health News (NHN), of 25 states with data on Native Americans, all reported obesity rates above 50%. In Arizona, North Carolina, and New Mexico, at least 75% of Native American adults are overweight or obese, NHN says. More than half of American Indian and Alaska Native adults are obese compared with one-third of all U.S. adults.

Related: Stopping Obesity in Its Infancy

The problem starts early: 1 in 4 Native American children aged 2 to 5 years are obese. Nearly one-third of children aged 6 to 11 years and one-third of those aged 12 to 19 years are obese.

Contributing factors include lack of access to healthful, affordable food and a shift from a diet of traditional indigenous foods, such as fruits and vegetables, to one that’s higher in fat, sugar, and sodium.

Related: Siblings’ Impact on Obesity

Anti-obesity programs are trying to reverse the rising trend, though. The Native-American–led Notah Begay III Foundation focuses on community-driven efforts, providing grants for grassroots programs targeting children’s nutrition education, access to healthier foods, increased physical activity, and other areas.

Related: Walking to Wellness—Safely

Freda Carpitcher, Health Promotion and Disease Prevention coordinator for the IHS’ Oklahoma area, is also working to educate families about healthier lifestyles. “If you look back 60 to 70 years, our disease rates were much lower,” she says in the NHN article. “My hope is that [Native Americans] will return to indigenous foods. [That will] contribute to lowering disease rates.”

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