American Indians and Alaska Natives Experience More Health Problems, Federal Report Finds
Rates of diabetes and early death from accidental injuries, violence and respiratory infections among American Indians and Alaska natives are two to three times higher than those in the general population, according to a study published in today's issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report abstract, 8/1). For the report, HHS' Indian Health Service examined health statistics for American Indians and Alaska natives between 1994 and 1998 and compared them with national averages during that period (Lerner, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 8/1). The study found the following:
- About 15.3% of AI/ANs have diabetes, compared with 7.3% of the general adult population.
- The incidence of diabetes has increased by 33% since 1994 among the AI/AN population, while the national rate has increased by 54% (Wahlberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/1).
- Injuries and violence cause 75% of all deaths among AI/ANs under age 19, nearly twice the national average (Manning, USA Today, 8/1).
- The number of deaths from car crashes, pedestrian accidents, fire and drowning among AI/AN children decreased during the past decade (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/1).
- Homicide rates increased by 20% and firearm-related deaths increased by 13% among children ages 19 and younger (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 8/1).
The report also found that cancer-related deaths are lower among AI/ANs, who have 161 cancer deaths per 100,000 people, than among the general population, which has about 205 per 100,000 people. However, cancer death rates for American Indians in the Northern Plains region -- which includes Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming -- were higher than the national average, with 292 per 100,000 people. The rates are among the nation's highest for "almost every major category of cancer," with particularly high rates for lung, colon and prostate cancers, the Star Tribune reports. Colon and prostate cancer death rates were about twice as high for American Indians in the region than for AI/ANs in other regions (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 8/1).
W. Craig Vanderwagen, acting chief medical officer for IHS, says the AI/AN poverty rate -- which, at 26%, is about twice the national average -- and poverty-related problems, such as alcoholism and limited access to health care, contribute to the health disparities between AI/ANs and the rest of the population. Vanderwagen also said that the loss of cultural identity among youth and increasing obesity and youth gang activity may be factors in the differences (USA Today, 8/1). However, efforts for improvement are producing results, according to Dr. Christine Branche, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Some AI/AN communities have implemented zero-tolerance policies for drinking and driving, and the distribution of flotation devices and smoke detectors on reservations has had some impact on reducing injury rates among the AI/AN population, Branche said (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.