The Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3) and its partners recently published a report on childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes among Native children in New Mexico, made possible by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PNM Resources Inc. and several other philanthropic funders.
In its executive summary, the NB3 Foundation warns "this may be the first generation of Native American children that does not outlive their parents." Though the study is specific to New Mexico, where dramatic health and educational disparities exist and American Indians make up 10.5 percent of the population, it is indicative of a public health crisis.
Study materials were culled from review of secondary literature, primary research and conversations with 255 stakeholders in Indian country, the nonprofit and government sectors, and the health arena including national foundations and research institutions. In four separate convenings, representatives discussed risk factors of obesity and type 2 diabetes; trends in at-risk behaviors; impact of policy at the federal, state, and tribal levels; existing collaborations and opportunities for collaborations; pertinent academic research; community-specific innovations/promising practices; and actionable recommendations. Participants’ testimonies and input were documented at length.
The objective of the study was to understand the root causes of the growing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes among American Indian youth and also shed light on "barriers, challenges, unmet needs, and opportunities for action," the executive report states.
The NB3 Foundation stresses that turning the tide against childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes requires a collective effort—among tribes, non-profits, entities in the public and private sectors, policy makers, institutionalized philanthropy, parents, families, schools, and the youth themselves.
Overall, a strong call for action was issued for the following:
• Clear and responsible leadership and advocacy that is led by Native Americans in partnership with appropriate non-Native American partners;
• A strong respect and understanding for the importance of culture in the development of any future strategies or a comprehensive framework that will foster transformation on this issue;
• Time and resources for collaboration and national/statewide/local education;
• Peer mentoring, network building, technical assistance, and education about issues and the latest trends in the field of obesity and type 2 diabetes prevention and mechanisms to share data and best practices that can enlighten the development of model programs;
• Investment in more community-based data collection, evaluation, and research into root causes and potential community solutions to health issues having positive outcomes for Native American children;
• Building bridges for sharing knowledge with the larger field of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes prevention practitioners;
• Understanding of social determinants on health in Native American communities and active development of holistic strategies to address these root causes in conjunction with prevention programs;
• Communicating with and involving Native American youth, community members, and tribal leadership;
• Capacity building of and support for existing and new community-driven models that will develop and showcase best practices with the potential for policy ramifications;
• Culturally appropriate community/state and even national media campaigns; and
• Increased resource development and investment from funding sources beyond IHS and the federal government to support obesity and type 2 diabetes prevention for Native American children and families.
"The clock is ticking, and the time is now to act for New Mexico’s Native American children before it is too late," the Foundation stated. "The next generation of New Mexico Native American leaders and cultural-keepers that will protect and strengthen the health, vibrancy, and future of tribal communities, tribal sovereignty, and the cultures and languages of New Mexico’s Native peoples is on the line."
The NB3 Foundation—founded in 2005 by Notah Begay III (Navajo/San Felipe/Isleta Pueblos), a four-time PGA TOUR winner and the only full-blooded Native American golfer on the PGA TOUR—is doing its part to reduce the incidences of Native American childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. Through youth sports and health and wellness programs, based on proven and documented best practices, the foundation is fostering leadership development and healthy attitudes among Native American children. To date, the NB3 Foundation has served more than 12,000 children in 11 states through its programs and initiatives. NB3 is headquartered at the Santa Ana Pueblo, just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.