Excess sugar consumption has led to an epidemic of type 2 diabetes among American Indian and Alaska Native people and uncontrolled diabetes causes cardiovascular disease.

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Excess sugar consumption has led to an epidemic of type 2 diabetes among American Indian and Alaska Native people and uncontrolled diabetes causes cardiovascular disease.

NB3 Foundation Takes Aim at Sugary Beverages

Sugary-sweetened beverages are the single largest category of caloric intake in children. Their consumption has increased by 500 percent in the last 50 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whether they be in the form of soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened milk or other alternatives, they are contributing to childhood obesity, nutrition-related diseases and tooth decay.

RELATED: Research Fraud: Why We Didn’t Know Sugar Can Cause Heart Disease

Indian country is particularly at risk. In New Mexico alone, 50 percent of Native American third-graders were either overweight or obese, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

The Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation is taking action to counteract this deadly trend through a new educational initiative that encourages Native children to drink more water and less sugary-sweetened beverages (SSB).

RELATED: USDA Study: Taxing or Increasing Cost of Sugary Beverages Can Lower Obesity Rates

As part of its nutritional, educational outreach, NB3F will additionally encourage new mothers to breastfeed.

To lead this educational push throughout Indian country, NB3F has awarded $900,000 to nine tribes and Native-led organizations in the southwest. The investment from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation allows the NB3 Foundation to continue to inspire a healthier next generation of Indian youth. NB3F, a nonprofit founded by Notah Begay III, is dedicated to improving health and physical activity in Native America, and devising and deploying effective strategies across Indian country to end the tides of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

NB3F is working with community partners from the Mescalero Apache Tribe, Navajo Nation, and several Pueblos in New Mexico. They’ll form a “learning network” and convene eight times over the course of the 2.5-year project to share, reflect and strategize about their efforts. The project will favor culturally appropriate methods that increase water consumption and decrease SSB consumption among Native youth.

The grant recipients will conduct community assessments of sugary-beverage consumption, access to safe drinking water, and breastfeeding. Each community-led process will help grantees identify and implement a policy or system change effort in their communities. 

They’ll also provide guidance to the NB3 Foundation on the launch of a national campaign to educate, inform and reduce the consumption of sugary beverages and promote the consumption of safe drinking water throughout Indian country.

 “We have an incredible group of Native communities that have demonstrated their commitment to children’s health and are ready to build a collaborative and culturally effective approach within their communities and as part of a learning network,” said Olivia Roanhorse, director of NB3 Foundation’s Native Strong Program, in a statement.  

The nine recipients:

COPE Project – Gallup, New Mexico

The Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE) Project, a nonprofit collaboration between the Navajo Nation, Indian Health Services, and Harvard University and health care resources, seeks to eliminate health disparities and improve the well-being of American Indians and Alaska Natives. 

Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos, Inc. — Zia, Sandia, Santa Ana, Cochiti and Jemez Pueblos

The Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos’ goal is to decrease prevalence of sugary beverages in the WIC community in favor of water, plain milk, herbal and traditional teas, and enhance breastfeeding acceptance by employers in the community. 

Jemez Pueblo – Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico

The Indigenous Action: Policies and Practice Project will focus on applying indigenous knowledge to policy and practice to shift the paradigm to community-based systems, environmental changes and intervention in Jemez Pueblo.

Mescalero Apache Tribe (DRMP Youth Development) – Mescalero, New Mexico

The tribe’s youth program will partner with IHS and other youth programs to conduct educational outreach to inform youth about the health implications of sugary drinks, and provide healthy activities and beverage alternatives. They also plan to support policy and possible legislation to regulate, reduce or eliminate sugary beverages in their community.

Ramah Navajo School Board – Ramah, New Mexico

The nonprofit organization that oversees Pine Hill Schools plans to develop and implement policies that eliminate student exposure to sweetened beverages during school, and incorporate a health curriculum taught by a youth educator, emphasizing the link to obesity and nutritionally related diseases.

Santo Domingo Pueblo – Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico

The Supporting the Promotion of Lifelong Achievements for Sustaining Health or S.P.L.A.S.H project will aim to promote a holistic, community-based approach to ensure children and the community have access to safe drinking water and healthy food at tribal meetings, community events, local schools and all public places. The Pueblo also plans to promote breastfeeding.

The STAR School – Flagstaff, Arizona

The Service To All Relations or STAR School plans to make clean water readily available to all youth in the three Navajo communities it serves. And after assessing the attitudes toward sugary beverages, they also plan to develop and implement an educational program to decrease the consumption of sugary drinks and increase the desirability of water, traditional tea or berry-infused water among youth. 

Tamaya Wellness Center – Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico

With the understanding that sugary beverages contribute to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes in the Pueblo, the Wellness Center’s project aims to change community attitudes and societal norms that there has to be Kool-Aid on the table and sugary beverages aren’t harmless through education, marketing and policy.

Zuni Youth Enrichment Project – Zuni, New Mexico

The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project’s Hydration for Health or H4H will, first, understand barriers to water consumption and community feelings toward sugary drinks. Second, H4H will promote and increase access to water on the reservation and provide all youth sports participants with water bottles, as well as provide drinking and filling stations at the future youth community park, creating access of safe drinking water to all community members.

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NB3 Foundation Takes Aim at Sugary Beverages

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