Prarie Doc Perspectives

DM and Indians

By Richard P. Holm, MD
In 1735, John Wesley visited Savannah in the Province of Georgia in the American Colonies, and gave an account of the Native Americans as the perfect example of health. He described this as mostly due to their lean diet and their rigorous physical lifestyle. It is now nearing 300 years later and people of all races could learn from the habits of the early American Indians.
What has happened since has deeply affected not only the American Indian, but also the white and multi-ethnic settlers of this country. As advancements in technology have taken away the need for hard daily work to survive, the American public has became lazy, letting the wheels and motors do the walking. Especially over the last 25 years, we have become a country of game-boy, couch-potato, TV watchers, who drive to school and work, always looking for an easier way.
At the same time diets have changed with the availability of inexpensive oil, flour, syrup and cheese. This made fry-bread, pizza, donuts, cheesy potatoes and sugary drinks the dietary staple, rather than the lean meat, fruits, vegetables, roots, fungi and legumes, which were the traditional American Indian and Native Alaskan diet.
With all these too-easy and greasy-sugary ways, comes an epidemic of obesity, with two out of three Americans overweight, and half of these, frankly, obese. No surprise an epidemic of diabetes has followed. Right now, 12 million Americans know they have diabetes, and about five million more have it but don’t know it. Paradoxically, obesity and type II Diabetes is about twice as bad in the American Indian population who, in the 1700s, were looked upon as the epitome of health.
So how can we change this trend in not only the American Indian population but in all the rest of those European, Middle Eastern, Asian, African, Mexican and South American immigrant populations that make up this admixture we call America?
It certainly will not come from developing and prescribing more medicine. One study from Bosnia-Herzegovina showed educating children and parents about diabetes made the biggest difference. This spreading of education must come not only from economists, politicians, educators, and medical care providers, but especially from local community leaders and elders working together to bring on a leaner diet and more rigorous physical lifestyle.
We all could learn from the habits of the early American Indians.
To hear more from Dr. Holm, watch his TV show, On Call with the Prairie Doc, every Thursday at 7 p.m. CT on South Dakota Public Broadcasting and his Web site, www.PrairieDoc.org. On Call with the Prairie Doc is produced by the Healing Words Foundation in association with the South Dakota State University journalism department and airs Thursdays on South Dakota Public Broadcasting Television at 7 p.m. Central.

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