O'odhams Use traditional Diet To Fight Diabetes
This group, part of the 28,000-strong Tohono O’odham community of Southern Arizona, represents a small but growing movement that believes traditional crops and desert plants contain substances that help regulate blood sugar and once protected them from diabetes.
When the O’odham, formerly known as the Papago stopped eating these foods, members conclude, protection was lost. The theory is far from accepted by the scientific and medical community but it does reflect the local frustration in the fighting the disease. In their opinion, diabetes is a modern scourge.
“If we are ever going to beat this diabetes, this sickness upon us, it’s got to come from the heart, the faith that our ancestors have had,” maintained Christine Johnson, a gray-haired woman as she stood by a trailer filled with home grown watermelon, cantaloupe and squash. ”And the only way we can do that,” continued the rotund 63-year-old,”is by uniting with each other and going back to the foods that were helping us before the supermarket opened up here.”
Johnson’s complaint is not with the supermarket chain but more with the federal government food and work policies follwing WWII that moved the tribe out of the farms and onto cotton fields ultimately fostering a dependence on government-supplied commodities such as flour, sugar, lard and canned goods.
Today, more than 50 percent of Tohono O’odham adults have Type 2 diabetes, among the highest incidence in the world.
The chronic disease is linked to obesity, and scientists attribute the Native American diabetes epidemic to a modern diet high in fat and calories and a sedentary lifestyle plus genetic factors.
This story was edited from the pages of The Arizona Republic bylined Chen May Yee. Part 2 – Founding of Tohono O’odham Community Action.