Native American Health

The American Indian and Alaska Native population is the smallest self-identified, racial-ethnic group in the United States, numbering about 2 million people. They are widely dispersed across the nation, belonging to more than 547 tribes and speaking more than 200 distinct languages. As a population, American Indians and Alaska Natives generally are younger, and have less education and tend to be poorer than other populations in the United States. Many are employed in agriculture, craft, and repair service occupations; few work in managerial and professional specialty occupations.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for all Americans, including American Indians and Alaska Natives. More men and women over 45 die from CVD than any other disease. CVD is a relatively recent phenomenon in the American Indian and Alaska Native population. As more native people adopt Western lifestyles characterized by a high-fat and high-calorie diet and low levels of physical activity, the prevalence of CVD increased in many native communities.

Today American Indians and Alaska Natives struggle with the health burden of CVD and its associated risk factors. Diabetes has risen to epidemic proportions in some populations, and many others are fighting the battle against obesity and high blood pressure. Because native people generally earn less than the average American and tend to live in remote, rural locations, some may have limited access to clinical preventive services, health education and prevention efforts. All these factors act synergistically to place native people at very high risk for chronic diseases.

Information excerpted from: Building Healthy Hearts for American Indians and Alaska Natives. To read the rest of this report from the National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, please click here: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/prof/heart/other/na_bkgd.pdf

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