Letter to the Editor: Diabetes is a significant health issue on Navajo Reservation
To the editor:
The Navajo Nation was at one time a very healthy nation. We ate the right foods and performed daily healthy physical activities like herding sheep, cutting wood, building hogans, hauling water, grinding corn, weaving and walking or running to the east every morning. We burned calories and the majority of our people were slim and trim, mentally and physically well.
Today, the majority of us are obese and unhealthy and most of us are in denial. The hospitals and clinics on the reservation are insufficient to treat the ailments we suffer as a diabetic nation. The nation's medical centers have to send us to facilities located in places like Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City and Denver for proper treatment. Millions of dollars are being spent to treat ailments resulting from obesity and unhealthy choices. An ill person may even develop depression and perhaps self-destruction. Is this the kind of future we, as parents and leaders, want to hand to our younger generation - a sick society?
We are not doing nearly enough to address this very deadly problem. Every so often, I see signs around chapter communities asking people to join a Walkfest and T-shirts advertising marathons and runs. Still, obesity rates are increasing. For instance, more than 50 percent of Tuba City elementary-school-age kids were diagnosed with diabetes. The government employs several measures to fight obesity and diabetes, including educating people about nutrition and which foods to eat or avoid. The rates are still increasing, not just in Tuba City, but across the Navajo Nation. l applaud all those trying to stabilize the epidemic rates of diabetes, especially the government programs.
I assert that what we are doing is not enough to effectively address the epidemic. I suggest that we ask for private sector help. There are so many private organizations throughout the United States serving the public by helping eradicate various illnesses.
Private-sector organizations are less burdened with red-tape and can provide services without political strings attached. We must also insist on the help of industries that sell to our people items that, if consumed in large quantities, result in diabetes and obesity, instead of banning or taxing them out of business.
By working together, we can freeze diabetes and obesity rates. The private industry can donate to private non-profit organizations that want and are willing to work with us and educate us and develop physical activities to burn calories, like doing useful things around the home.
Such a program should be reservation-wide and target all ages. It should reach every home and restore the habits of physical fitness we, Navajo, once embraced.
There is a movement to tax diabetes or obesity-causing food items like soft drinks and junk foods known to contribute to poor health. But will this solve our diabetes issue?
It could help, but our people will buy the stuff anyway at off-reservation markets-just as they do with liquor. It's certainly not going to stop the production of junk foods.
So, do we just continue to let the onslaught happen? Or, should we reach back to our past and see what really made us nearly perfect physical specimens?
Not everyone can run in a marathon, play basketball, baseball, golf, touch football or dance. We need to start a new physical fitness culture that targets and is based on the individual capacities and abilities of each member of the Navajo Nation.
It will cost money and lots of time and commitment and require everyone's involvement: every organization and each company that operates in and does business with the Navajo Nation, particularly those whose products are killing us now.
The price of doing business on Navajo land should be to help make the Navajo Nation healthy. It's a win-win answer to one of the most troubling health problem we've faced in recent years.
Any other suggestions?
Peter MacDonald Sr.