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Supporting Tradition and Health in Native American Communities


It is an uphill climb for many Native American communities who are battling extremely high rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Nowhere is this burden heavier than among Native American children: A 2011 report from the New Mexico Department of Health found that 42.7 percent of Native American kindergartners were overweight or obese and that 49.7 percent of third-graders were obese.

Many schools are making significant strides with support from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, which is working hard to transform these communities by leveraging strategic partnerships and building culturally competent initiatives. Recently, the Alliance signed an agreement with the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) to introduce the Healthy Schools Program in BIE schools across the nation. Currently, nearly 200 schools with predominantly American Indian populations are enrolled in the Healthy Schools Program—and those numbers continue to grow! (You can read about and watch the Alliance’s work in Native American communities here.)

One of those schools is Chee Dodge Elementary School in Yatahey, New Mexico, which has a 98 percent Navajo student population. Chee Dodge joined the Healthy Schools Program in 2010 and offers a daily Navajo culture and language class to its students. During this class, students play active games, dance, and walk or run on the outdoor trail.

Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has an 89 percent Native American population. To support health, the school passes on traditional meals to students by teaching them to prepare dishes with a focus on nutritious ingredients like squash, corn, green chili, garlic and onions.

For the first time this September, Monument Valley High School in Kayenta, Arizona—a school located on a reservation—earned the Alliance’s National Healthy Schools Bronze Award. The Alliance provided both online and onsite support to the school: National Nutrition Advisor Carol Chong traveled to Kayenta to provide in-depth nutrition training for cafeteria staff, and Program Manager Tara Gene provided support to help the school also develop an employee wellness program.

It’s an uphill climb, but the Alliance for a Healthier Generation believes that making healthy change is possible, even in underserved communities, with the right support and guidance.

Laura O’Connor of Alliance for a Healthier Generation authored this article.