By Luz Smeenk, Community Educator, Alaska Native Diabetes Program, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium
Once rare in Alaska Native people, today there are 4,900 Alaska Native people with diabetes, an eightfold increase since 1985. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) Diabetes Program provides clinical care for people with diabetes, at the Alaska Native Medical Center and through specialty clinics across the state. Care is offered through a team approach and includes visits with a medical provider, pharmacist, podiatrist and registered dietitian.
Access to quality diabetes care prevents the most serious complications, including vision loss, kidney damage, heart disease and amputations, and improves the quality of life for the person living with diabetes. The program also provides community education about diabetes prevention. Lifestyle changes help people with diabetes to maintain good blood sugar control and avoid complications.
Diabetes can also be prevented through lifestyle changes that include:
- Eating foods found in nature. Processed foods (soda, snack or, fast foods) contain excess sugar, fat and little fiber. Traditional foods that are fished (salmon), hunted (caribou), gathered (fireweed, tundra tea and other plants) or grown (fruits and vegetables) are healthier choices.
- Exercise often. Do what you can for as long as you can every day. And if you sit all day doing projects or at work, get up and move at least 10 minutes for every hour that you sit.
- Don’t use tobacco which can lead to cancer, heart problems and amputations.
- Get enough sleep. Less than seven hours of sleep per night can lead to weight gain and poor blood sugar control.
- Look for healthy ways to manage stress. Seek out activities you enjoy and that help you tame tension. These include walking, dancing, knitting or gardening. Relaxing techniques like deep breathing, writing in a journal, prayer or meditation can help too.
- Breastfeeding. If you are a new mother, or expecting a child, breastfeeding longer than three months has been shown to protect both mother and baby from obesity and diabetes.
The ANTHC Diabetes Program is one of more than 20 Tribal diabetes programs funded by the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. For more information about these programs contact the ANTHC Diabetes Program at (907) 746-1125.