The rising cases of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other diseases linked to poor nutrition and obesity among Indian peoples has long been a concern to the Choctaw Nation. A recent State of the Nation’s Health Report (2010) demonstrates a growing frequency of these health problems, and they are occurring in younger and younger tribal members. Chief Pyle, Assistant Chief Batton, the Tribal Council and the Health Services Authority have all agreed that something has to be done to break this trend. To that end, the Choctaw Nation “Going Lean” initiative was established in October 2010.
The Going Lean Team currently consists of 30 members from throughout the Choctaw Nation, including Wellness Centers, Health System, Health Providers, Diabetic Educators, Community Health, Talihina Youth Center Staff, Youth Advisory Staff, Clinic Directors, Hospital Cafeteria Staff, Outreach Staff, Lifetime Legacy and Behavioral Health, IT Staff, and CN Epidemiology/Statisticians. Their main focus is on obesity prevention and promoting healthy lifestyles.
Program Director Tammie Cannady is determined to make a generational change within the Choctaw Nation that will greatly reduce the incidence of disease among our people.
“We will be targeting Choctaws of all ages, through outreach with staff surveys, partnerships with the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute at the University of Washington, and reaching out to the entire area through community forums,” she states.
Other plans include establishing weight loss clubs and exercise classes; gardening programs to develop community gardens and farmers markets, and to illustrate healthy ways to cook traditional foods; public school programs focused as early as preschool; and even lifestyle/motivational counseling. The Going Lean Team is also working on developing a line of walking and cooking videos.
“As each of these products is readied and made available to our communities, we expect to see real change among our tribal members,” says Cannady. “And since Going Lean is a fluid program, we will be able to take feedback from the participants and use it to focus on specific needed areas, or even to expand to new ones.”
The Team also recognizes the role of alternative therapies in maintaining a healthier lifestyle, and their importance in addressing the “spirit needs” which affect some health choices. They will be studying such treatments as traditional medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, and zen and massage therapy, with the expectation that one or more of these therapies may be used in the future along with the standardized medical treatment.
Within the Nation itself, the Going Lean Team will be conducting employee surveys, working with food services/cafeterias to find healthier food options, and encouraging plenty of health activities. Expect to see more Healthy Living articles in the Biskinik, as well as educational materials in community centers, headstarts and clinics.
The Choctaw Nation recognizes that the future of our People depends upon the health and advancement of our Youth. By introducing the Going Lean program now, it is the hope that a new, healthier lifestyle will become a natural part of our lives, and that we will continue to teach these ways to our future children “unto the seventh generation.”