Little Priest Investigates Food Assistance

Feb 15th, 2002 | By | Category: 13-3: Sustaining Our Future, Tribal College News

In the past 40 years, Type II Diabetes has changed from a rare occurrence to an epidemic in American Indian and Alaskan Native populations. In an effort to strengthen the battle against diabetes, Little Priest Tribal College in Nebraska recently entered into a subcontract with the University of Arizona to complete a research project that examined some of the impacts of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food assistance programs in relationship to diabetes and obesity among residents of the Winnebago Reservation.

The project, The Impact of Food Assistance Programs on the Winnebago Indian Reservation, was divided into two sections: 1) Did all the food assistance programs follow the same nutrition standard in food preparation, amounts served, and interpretation of nutrition guidelines? 2) In using the foods available from the food assistance programs on the Winnebago Reservation, can the food preparation habits of people be changed to reduce diabetes risk factors? The project involved eight participating programs, all within the boundaries of the Winnebago Reservation and recipients of some type of USDA food assistance program.

Investigators determined that the nutrition, serving standards, and food preparation methods varied among the participating programs. Each program prepared food in a fashion that caters to the likes and dislikes of the recipients. Despite the fact that current preparation methods were adding to the obesity among the Winnebago people, healthier substitutions were not used when it was known that recipients wouldn’t eat those foods.

The second phase of the project focused on creating a change in food preparation and cooking habits. Classes provided information on using healthy substitutions and demonstrated cooking methods, which help in the reduction of obesity and therefore, the development of diabetes.

Three recommendations were made from this study. First, the study should be replicated with a larger cohort and over a longer period of time to examine the actual physical and emotional changes that may occur in the participants. Second, all government food assistance programs should provide their clients with educational classes on how to prepare and select foods that promote health.  Third, a presentation of the findings will educate all members of the community and help create a reservation-wide effort to coordinate food programs for a better understanding of health risks and solutions.

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