Chronic Disease, Injuries Vary Among American Indians and Alaska Natives

Data from the CDC shows that American Indians and Alaska Natives may be at greater health risk from smoking-related illnesses, diabetes, or motor vehicle injuries.

American Indians and Alaska Natives may be at greater health risk from smoking-related illnesses, diabetes, or motor vehicle injuries depending on where they live and whether they are male or female, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Analysis of data from CDC's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a monthly telephone survey of U.S. adults, for the years 1995 through 1998 found substantial differences among the two groups be geographic region and sex for three risk factors: current cigarette smoking, awareness of having diabetes, and not wearing a seat belt while driving or riding in a car.

Study findings by region showed that current cigarette smoking was most common in the Northern Plains and least common in the Southwest. Awareness of having diabetes was least common in Alaska. Not wearing a seat belt when driving or riding in a car was most common in the Northern Plains and least common on the Pacific Coast.

In terms of differences by gender, men were more likely than women to be current smokers. They were also at higher risk than women for not wearing a seatbelt and men were less likely to be aware of having diabetes.

"Knowing that American Indians and Alaska Natives in some parts of our country are at greater health risk and that there are differences between sexes are important steps toward improving the health of these men and women," said Dr. James S. Marks, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

The CDC study authors believe that the risk factors among American Indians and Alaska Natives may be higher than reported because 23 percent of that population does not have a telephone -- the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group in the United States.

Smoking-related illness, diabetes and motor vehicle injuries are major cause of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

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