NACA receives grant to address childhood obesity in Native American community

Children and families stretching before a free 2K fun race at NACA’s annual Sacred Mountain Prayer Run at Thorpe Park in Flagstaff. Submitted photo

Children and families stretching before a free 2K fun race at NACA’s annual Sacred Mountain Prayer Run at Thorpe Park in Flagstaff. Submitted photo

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Native Americans for Community Action (NACA) recently received a grant from the Notah Begay III Foundation to address the contributing factors in childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes in Native American youth.

NACA will begin by coming up with an action plan after an assessment of Native American youth in the Flagstaff community. The grant's two goals are to determine the root causes of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes and to develop a sustainable community action plan that will address those causes.

Marian Bitsui, public education coordinator, for NACA, said it is important to hear what the community has to say. NACA will put together a community advisory board that will be tasked with finding answers for how NACA can better use its services to help prevent type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity.

"It's a community driven grant," Bitsui said, adding that there are many contributing factors to consider like food security, financial stability and economic factors, including cost of living and employment opportunities.

In addition there are social factors at play as well like kids' self-esteem and bullying. Helping parents figure out what kind of physical activity their kids should be doing is important as well.

"One of the comments I have received from a parent is that they really don't know what their child should do in terms of physical activity," Bitsui said. "Should I make them run, should I make them do jumping jacks? Really educating parents on what they can do."

Ideally, a child should exercise two hours a day while an adult should exercise 30 minutes a day to maintain fitness levels, Bitsui said.

"We want to bring out some knowledge for the community for them to understand different aspects of physical exercise," she said.

The program itself, the Full Circle program, is based on the Medicine Wheel model, which address the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health of kids. The model's strategy is listening, dialogue, action and reflection.

The listening portion is listening to the needs of the community and for NACA to be in tune with what is really going on with Native American youth in Flagstaff. The Community Advisory Board is part of the dialogue portion of the model for the community to come together to talk about what those needs are.

"You get great conversations going and you find awesome answers and different thoughts that you would have never have thought of on your own," Bitsui said. "That dialogue really helps with not just coming up with a plan but really fine tuning it and getting people's opinions on things. That is one of the main goals of this grant."

The action and reflection parts of the model occur when NACA reapplies for the grant and will include a plan for how NACA will address childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes and help the community of Flagstaff. The current grant is a nine month cycle grant.

NACA will work with its Pathways Youth program, which already has a foundation of cultural beliefs, background information and identity information and its Health Promotion team.

"[The Health Promotions team] brings a whole component on how we can address these factors, not just physically but understanding how it brings self-esteem...," Bitsui said.

She said a chronic disease like diabetes often includes a cycle of depression and obesity.

"We really are trying to keep that focus and utilize what we already have, like the Pathways Youth program...and trying to develop a different curriculum for physical education and keeping in that component of behavioral and mental health that is just as important as the physical aspect," Bitsui said.

Engaging the community is a huge part of that, she said, along with making sure each child is treated as more than a number.

"You really want to address each of their needs," Bitsui said. "Because it really is linked to their physical and how it manifests, your self-esteem, how you internalize that definitely comes out in the physical. We really want to address that."

The dialogue also can include factors that make it more difficult for children to engage in physical activity like sports at school where at the high school level the $200 fee for joining a team and any additional equipment fees may not be reachable by the community NACA serves.

Bitsui said children who are gifted and talented may not have the financial means to pursue sports. She also said sports are a great way to promote teamwork, leadership ability and life skills.

"For them to have that opportunity taken away because they don't have the finances because the $200 would be better served with gas money or food...it's a problem," Bitsui said. "Automatically being discouraged thinking, 'Well, I'm not even going to ask my mom because I don't want her to worry about that.' You have to place yourself in the needs of the community and ask how can we help? How can we provide that service? How can we do the work that needs to be done?"

Bitsui said Notah Begay is a great example of Native American culture, emotion and how important it is to keep up on physical health.

"We're really excited to be working with them," she said. "It's a great thing."

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