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Indian Health Service Publishes Paper on Child Obesity

by Ann Bullock, MD, Director, Division of Diabetes Treatment and Prevention, Indian Health Service

The Indian Health Service (IHS) has released an article in the American Journal of Public Health Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  (AJPH) reporting that the prevalence of overweight and obesity among American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children may have stabilized. The study looked at children from across ages, genders, and geographic regions within the IHS active clinical population. The article is in the September 2017 issue of AJPH.

Data were obtained from the IHS National Data Warehouse, a central repository of registration and encounter-based patient data from IHS, tribal and urban Indian health facilities. The span of data used was from the years 2006 to 2015 and from across all 12 IHS Areas. It is key to note that this is the largest, most comprehensive data set ever used to assess obesity in AI/AN children as it included more than 184,000 AI/AN children ages 2 through 19 years of age in each year studied.

While the obesity prevalence among AI/AN children is still high and higher than in the general U.S. population of children, the data suggest that the overall prevalence in the Native population has been stable over the past decade.

This is good news related to Native children and helping them lead healthier lives. The focus of IHS, tribal, and urban Indian programs is to lead with prevention efforts and to assess their effectiveness using data such as this. This gives them the opportunity to address best practices, including connecting parents to healthier foods for their children and increasing their physical activity. Addressing childhood obesity is an important part of helping ensure that all children have healthy futures.

Childhood obesity is a complex health issue. It occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Many of the causes of excess weight gain in young people are similar to those in adults, including factors such as lifestyle choices and genetics. However, recent science is discovering that conditions before birth and in the first few years of life, such as food insecurity and chronic stress, also increase the risk for obesity. In addition, where people live and their level of poverty can affect their ability to access and afford nutritious foods and make healthy choices.

The authors include Karen Sheff, MS of the Division of Diabetes Treatment and Prevention, Office of Clinical and Preventive Services, Indian Health Service along with Dr. Kelly Moore and Dr. Spero Manson of the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health, Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Denver, Aurora.

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Ann Bullock, MD, Director, Division of Diabetes Treatment and Prevention, Indian Health Service
Dr. Ann Bullock is the Director of the IHS Division of Diabetes Treatment and Prevention (DDTP). DDTP provides information and resources to strengthen clinical, public health, and community approaches for diabetes treatment and prevention in AI/AN co