Why Obesity and Heart Disease Hit Harder in Indian Country

Woman from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs prepares salmon. (Photo: Alyssa Macy)
Woman from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs prepares salmon. (Photo: Alyssa Macy)

And how to fix it.

By Francie Diep, Pacific Standard

The Navajo Nation covers 27,413 square miles. Serving that entire area, the territory has just 10 grocery stores. This means that, in order to get fresh, affordable produce, some Navajo Nation residents must drive at least 155 miles round-trip, according to one recent study.

This makes the Navajo Nation, like many other American Indian reservations, a food desert—a region in the United States where residents can’t easily buy fresh, healthy, affordable food. (Because of their setting, these food deserts are unlike those that normally show up in the news, which tend to be in urban centers.) In recent years, American public health researchers and policy experts have done a lot to document the effects of food deserts on people’s health, and to suggest solutions. Yet, in all that talk, nothing quite seemed like it would work for the people Crystal Echohawk and Janie Simms Hipp serve. “The policy levers were off,” Hipp says. “They were not a good fit because of the uniqueness of Indian Country.”

Hipp is an agriculture lawyer who directs a research institute at the University of Arkansas School of Law. Echohawk runs her own consulting firm in Colorado that advises non-profits working on American Indian issues. Together, they advocate for American Indians to gain better access to healthy food, which would in turn reduce rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related ills that run rampant in the Native American population as a whole. Over 80 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native adults are overweight or obese; about half of American Indian children are at an unhealthy weight; and it’s estimated 30 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives have pre-diabetes. Compare those statistics to American adults in general, two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese, and 27 percent of whom are estimated to have pre-diabetes.

“Oftentimes, when conversations are had with policymakers or philanthropy or public health, people just turn away and say, ‘We don’t know where to start. The problems are too big for us to solve.’ But there’s no shortage of opportunity for real change.”

Conventional fixes probably won’t work. But Echohawk and Hipp have ideas for what will. Together with lawyer-activist Wilson Pipestem, they put together a report for the American Heart Association about how to address the unique burden of diet-related disease that the U.S.’s indigenous people carry. “I think, oftentimes, when conversations are had with policymakers or philanthropy or public health, people just turn away and say, ‘We don’t know where to start. The problems are too big for us to solve,'” Echohawk says. “But there’s no shortage of opportunity for real change.”

Pacific Standard recently talked over the phone with Echohawk and Hipp about what makes it hard to stay healthy while living on reservations and trust lands—what’s collectively called Indian Country—and how a local food movement and cultural programs can make it easier:

What are some examples of policy ideas for reducing obesity that weren’t good fits for Indian Country?

Janie Hipp: I’d served for six years or so with the Bush and Obama administrations at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I was always struck when policy, at the national level, was really bearing down on food deserts. They talked about encouraging retail food outlets to carry more healthy food products or fresher produce. That’s great, but if you have no retail food outlet, then you’re actually talking about a whole different policy arena that you need to wrap your head around.

Crystal Echohawk: There’s just the assumption that people already had outlets, that they were in urban centers. There’s also the lack of understanding of tribes as sovereign nations and their ability to institute a level of policy change over their tribal citizens. Now, a lot of the policy change that is being advocated is at the state level. But when we really look at the biggest levers of change in Indian Country, we look at the level of tribal government and we also look at federal because of the government-to-government relationship that tribes have with the federal government.

I saw that the Navajo Nation this year instituted a tax on junk food. It also made fresh fruits and vegetables tax-free. I can’t imagine a state doing that. New York City tried to institute a sugary-drinks tax and it failed.

CE: There’s immense opportunity for real change in Indian Country. What Navajo Nation did, I think, is just one example. There are just so many more opportunities aside from a tax.

What’s one of your favorite ideas for improving healthy food access in Indian Country?

JH: The vast majority of the foods that are raised for human consumption on our reservations leave the borders of the reservation. If the levers are pulled in such a way that feeding people healthy, local food comes first, before you feed folks outside of those reservation boundaries—you can do both—then we are within reach of having a major shift in our health. And oh, by the way, [by selling locally grown food locally] we also can build strong rural and remote economies.

Why does all the food leave?

JH: What is lacking in all rural communities—it’s not just Indian Country, but the lack is more profound—is the infrastructure necessary to do the harvesting, grading, packing, storage, freezing, all of those things that allow you to store and move food around more locally. Re-building those infrastructure pieces, or building them outright, is an important piece that can’t be ignored.

What’s wrong with growing food on tribal land and having that shipped out, and then having something else shipped in, instead?

JH: Being able to retain as much healthy local food around our communities as possible is going to lead to fresher produce being available to us. On the meat side, that’s been a phenomenon for years, where livestock is raised on our reservations, but they leave the reservation boundaries and, in many cases, never return. Or they make a circuitous route across the U.S. before they get back. Think about the cost associated with that. All you have to do is go into a grocery store close by any of our remote reservations and you will noticeably see the cost of food is much higher, and that’s not even talking about Alaska.

Why do you think American Indians have higher rates of obesity and diabetes than Americans in general?

CE: Poverty is a root cause. It’s a lot cheaper to go to McDonald’s and order stuff off the Dollar Menu than it is to go in and buy fruits and vegetables in a store when you’re looking at many families that are surviving on one paycheck and feeding a dozen people.

Another important component is how we’re addressing historical trauma within Native American people. There’s been increasing research out there linking trauma to health disparities. When you look at the history regarding Native Americans, of forced removal, of genocide, the boarding schools, it’s layer upon layer of trauma that Native American people, over generations, have sustained

Advocates vow to revive Navajo junk-food tax

By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – Facing a high prevalence of diabetes, many American Indian tribes are returning to their roots with community and home gardens, cooking classes that incorporate traditional foods, and running programs to encourage healthy lifestyles.

The latest effort on the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest reservation, is to use the tax system to spur people to ditch junk food.

A proposed 2 percent sales tax on chips, cookies and sodas failed Tuesday in a Tribal Council vote. But the measure still has widespread support, and advocates plan to revive it, with the hope of making the tribe one of the first governments to enact a junk-food tax.

Elected officials across the U.S. have taken aim at sugary drinks with proposed bans, size limits, tax hikes and warning labels, though their efforts have not gained widespread traction. In Mexico, lawmakers approved a junk food tax and a tax on soft drinks last year as part of that government’s campaign to fight obesity.

Navajo President Ben Shelly earlier this year vetoed measures to establish a junk-food tax and eliminate the tax on fresh fruit and vegetables. At Tuesday’s meeting, tribal lawmakers overturned the veto on the tax cut, but a vote to secure the junk-food tax fell short. Lawmakers voted 13-7 in favor of it, but the tax needed 16 votes to pass.

The Dine Community Advocacy Alliance, which led the effort, said it plans to revise the proposal and bring it before lawmakers again during the summer legislative session.

“We’re going to keep moving on it,’’ group member Gloria Begay said. “It’s not so much the tax money – it’s the message. The message being, ‘Let’s look at our health and make healthier choices.’ We have to go out and do more education awareness.’’

Shelly said he supports the proposal’s intent but questioned how the higher tax on snacks high in fat, sugar and salt would be enacted and regulated. Supporters say the tax is another tool in their fight for the health of the people.

“If we can encourage our people to make healthier choices and work on the prevention side, we increase the life span of our children, we improve their quality of life,’’ said professional golfer Notah Begay III, who is among supporters.

American Indians and Alaska Natives as a whole have the highest age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes among U.S. racial and ethnic groups, according to the American Diabetes Association. They are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to have the disease that was the fourth leading cause of death in the Navajo area from 2003 to 2005, according to the Indian Health Service.

Native children ages 10 to 19 are nine times as likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the IHS said.

The proposed Navajo Nation tax wouldn’t have added significantly to the price of junk food, but buying food on the reservation presents obstacles that don’t exist in most of urban America. The reservation is a vast 27,000 square miles with few grocery stores and a population with an unemployment rate of around 50 percent. Thousands of people live without electricity and have no way of storing perishable food items for too long.

“They have a tendency to purchase what’s available, and it’s not always the best food,’’ said Leslie Wheelock, director of tribal relations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Wheelock said the diabetes issue in tribal communities is one that has been overlooked in the past or not taken as seriously as it could be. It has roots in the federal government taking over American Indian lands and introducing food that tribal members weren’t used to, she said.

To help remedy that, the USDA runs a program that distributes nutritional food to 276 tribes. Grants from the agency have gone toward gardening lessons for children within the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York, culturally relevant exercise programs for the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota and food demonstrations using fresh fruit and vegetables on the Zuni reservations in New Mexico.

The Dine Community Advocacy Alliance estimated a junk-food tax would result in at least $1 million a year in revenue that could go toward wellness centers, community parks, walking trails and picnic grounds in Navajo communities in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. It would have expired at the end of 2018.

No other sales tax on the Navajo Nation specifically targets the spending habits of consumers. Alcohol is sold in a few places on the reservation but isn’t taxed. Retailers and distributors pay a tobacco tax.

Opponents of the junk food tax argued it would burden customers and drive revenue off the reservation. Mike Gardner, executive director of the Arizona Beverage Association, said the lack of specifics in the legislation as to what exactly would be taxed could mean fruit juice and nutritional shakes could be lumped in the same category as sodas.

“I don’t think they mean that, but that’s what will happen,’’ Gardner said. “It’s a little loose, a little vague. It’s going to create problems for retailers and … it doesn’t solve the problem.’’

IHS and the Notah Begay III Foundation form partnership to address obesity in Native youth

Source: Indian Health Service

The Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3F) are collaborating on activities aimed at preventing childhood obesity in American Indian and Alaska Native youth. The partnership will include sharing best practices in implementation of community-based activities directed at addressing childhood obesity in Indian Country.

The collaboration, initiated Nov. 12, 2013, was developed in support of the Let’s Move! In Indian Country (LMIC) program, which is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. The LMIC seeks to advance the work tribal leaders and community members are doing to improve the health of Native youth.

“Today’s partnership is an important step towards helping Native American youth lead healthier lives,” said Sam Kass, executive director of Let’s Move! and White House senior policy advisor on nutrition. “With the LMIC, we’ve seen tribal leaders engage their communities by creating food policy councils and reintroducing sports like lacrosse into schools, but we know there is more work to be done to ensure all our children have the healthy futures they deserve.”

Obesity is a significant problem in Native communities. It is a risk factor for many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, which are among the leading causes of death for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“Tribal leaders have asked us to focus more on prevention efforts, especially with our youth,” said Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, acting director of the IHS. “Our new partnership with the NB3F gives us an opportunity to identify and share best practices from all of our prevention efforts, including the successful activities and outcomes of our Special Diabetes Program for Indians grantees, to help in the fight against childhood obesity in the communities we serve. We are excited to partner with them as they establish a new national center focused on these issues.”

With a mission centered on reducing the incidence of type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity among Native American children, NB3F has developed community-driven, scalable, and replicable prevention models that have seen statistically significant outcomes among child participants in the areas of reduced body mass index or BMI (a measure of weight proportionate to a person’s height), increased self-confidence and endurance, and enhanced understanding of nutrition knowledge. In August of this year, NB3F launched a national initiative, Native Strong: Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures that functions as a national center focused on strategic grant making, research and mapping, capacity building, and advocacy to combat type 2 diabetes and obesity among Native American children.

“This unprecedented partnership between the Obama administration, the IHS, and the NB3F demonstrates the critical importance of leveraging partnerships and resources to tackle the health crisis facing Native American children,” said NB3F founder Notah Begay III. “With 1 out of 2 Native American children expected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, it is vital that effective strategies and best practices are accessible for all Native communities, so together we can turn the tide on childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

About the Indian Health Service: The IHS provides a comprehensive health service delivery system for approximately 2.1 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who are members of federally recognized Tribes. The IHS is the principal federal health care provider and health advocate for American Indians and Alaska Natives, and its mission is to raise their health status to the highest level. For more information about the IHS, visit www.ihs.gov

About the Notah Begay III Foundation: In 2005, Notah Begay III established the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3F), a 502c3 non-profit organization to address the profound health and wellness issues impacting Native American children and to empower them to realize their potential as tomorrow’s leaders. The mission of NB3F is to reduce the incidences of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes and advance the lives of Native American children through physical activity and wellness programming. To this end, NB3F develops community-driven, sustainable, evidence-based, and innovative wellness programs designed by Native Americans for Native American children that promote physical fitness, wellness, and leadership development. For more information on Notah Begay III and NB3F, visit: www.nb3foundation.org.

Drop the Can! 3 Soda Substitutes After Pop Linked to Aggression in Kids

Dale Carson, ICTMN

Five-year-olds who consume four or more sodas daily are more than twice as likely to attack others, fight with them or destroy their property, according to findings from a study by the Children’s Hospital Medical Center, published August 16 in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Many studies have confirmed a relationship between adolescents’ soft drink consumption and aggression, depression and suicidal thoughts; but this is the first time scientists have identified this association between soda and young children.

RELATED: Pop Goes the Waistline! A Daily Soda Puts Kids on the Obesity Train

Can Drinking Soda Give You Cancer?

And the New Mountain Dew Flavor Is … Diabetes?

Will Bloomberg’s Ban on Big Gulp Sodas in NYC Lower Obesity Rates?

USDA Study: Taxing or Increasing Cost of Sugary Beverages Can Lower Obesity Rates

We’re talking little kids here; scary!

The long-term effects of soda consumption manifest in adults, who suffer from diabetes, obesity, stroke, depression, tooth decay, and all kinds of ailments—also linked to poor diet and processed junk foods heavy in salt, preservatives and color additives. These types of foods provide little to no nutritional value. Processed foods and sugary drinks are making this country unhealthy.

It’s common knowledge that soda, diet soda, energy drinks and other “liquid refreshments” are chock-full of sugar, caffeine, and color additives. But what about juice?

I once gave my babies sweet, sugary apple juice in their bottles, thinking it was good for them. Apples are a fruit, aren’t they? Fruits are good for you, right?

Wrong. Not store-bought apple juice. It’s full of sugar, which causes tooth decay, especially on young pearly whites. We live and learn.

RELATED: Native Food: Crabapple Jelly With Sumac (Check out Dale’s homemade recipe for Apple Cider Vinegar!)

For years, I drank what I thought was a healthy tonic daily of V-8 vegetable juice, the juice of one-half lemon (way too much) and a couple of drops of Worchestershire sauce. My dentist said that probably accounted for the substantial loss of enamel on my teeth.

There just isn’t a drink much better for you than water. Good ‘ol water instead of soft drinks and other liquids.

One of the first things the New England settlers noted about the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island was that they typically drank water—cold or hot, and oftentimes flavored. The Ojibwa (Chippewa) of the western Great Lakes typically boiled their water with vegetables, twigs and leaves, explains Frances Densmore in her 1974 book How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine and Crafts.

All Natives regularly drank broths and stocks. The Iroquois, for instance, would drink the water they used to boil cornbread, as well as the water they used to boil nuts when separating oil, writes Arthur C. Parker in his 1968 book Parker on the Iroquois.

Following in the footsteps of our ancestors, here are some tips to spice up your water and make it your go-to thirst quencher:

1. Fruit (or Herb) Water

Frothy, homemade strawberry tea (Flickr/trekkyandy)
Frothy, homemade strawberry tea (Flickr/trekkyandy)

Keep a large jar in the fridge filled with water and fruit for flavor. Try lemon, orange, watermelon, peaches, or even herbs. I like cucumber, fresh ginger and mint! The taste is subtle but refreshing, and a nice break from the ordinary.

The Iroquois regularly prepared blackberry-infused water, particularly in winter with dried blackberries. It was believed to frighten away the cold, Densmore writes in her book.

RELATED: The Original Finger Food (All about berries; includes the recipe for Dale’s mouth-watering Strawberry-Rhubarb Slump.)

Strawberry Fields Forever (Try Dale’s recipe for a strawberry summer salad.)

2. Tea

Try icing some juniper tea, green tea, sassafras tea or white pine bark tea for the kids. Sweeten with honey.

RELATED: It’s Time for Fall Foraging and Hunter’s Moon Tea (Includes Dale’s recipe for Hunter’s Moon Tea.)

A Traditional Story of Picking Strawberries, Redheads and Love (Includes Dale’s recipe for strawberry leaf tea.)

Summer’s Signature Scent (Includes a recipe for strawberry basil lemonade.)

3. Maple Water

For something sweet, make a refreshing drink with organic maple syrup. It is said that the original ice cream cone was simply maple syrup poured over snow that was stuffed into a birch bark cone.

RELATED: Harvesting Maple Sap Is Worth Tasting the Sweet Nectar (Check out Dale’s Maple Apple Pudding recipe!)

The Sticky, Sweet History of Making Maple Syrup (Includes Dale’s recipe for Maple Barbecue Sauce! Yum.)

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/08/27/3-substitutes-soda-new-study-links-pop-aggression-kids-151044

Mexico Now World’s Fattest Nation; President Hopes Stevia Can Save It

Brazil’s Indigenous peoples have sweetened teas with stevia since ancient times. (Flickr/kochtopf)

Brazil’s Indigenous peoples have sweetened teas with stevia since ancient times. (Flickr/kochtopf)

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

This year Mexico surpassed America as the world’s fattest nation. According to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), 32.8 percent of adults in Mexico are obese and 70 percent are overweight, and roughly a third of the country’s teenagers are overweight, reported The Global Dispatch. Meanwhile, approximately 1 in 6 Mexican adults—or 70,000 people—suffer from weight-related diabetes each year.

Among the reasons for Mexico’s bulging waistline are increases in junk food and fast-food chains combined with a sedentary lifestyle, states a report by the FAO.

The news has spurred Mexico’s new President Pena Nieto to recommend stevia, a natural, zero calorie sugar substitute, as a solution to repair the “collapse in Mexico’s healthcare system” by 2030, reports Suzy Chaffee, 1968 ski racing Olympian and co-founder of the Native American Olympic Team Foundation, for enewschannels.com.

South American tribes discovered the rainforest herb Stevia. The Guarani Indians of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia were among the first to enjoy the unique benefits of kaa-he-he, which translates to “sweet herb,” according to stevia.net.

“The rebaudiana extract from Stevia is the only known natural sweetener with zero calories, zero carbohydrates, and a zero glycemic index, which gives you zero fluctuations in blood glucose and zero contributions to any disease,” Olivia (Cherokee), a Master Gardener and Chaffee’s advisor, told Chaffee.

RELATED: How a Healthier Diet Can Reduce School Violence and Shootings

China and Japan have grown and used the most Stevia since the 1970s, and the country’s residents have the lowest rates of diabetes in the world. Chaffee says the countries’ health success likely inspired President Nieto to recommend stevia as a weight loss solution in Mexico.

Read Chaffee’s full article here.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/08/15/mexico-president-nieto-recommends-stevia-curb-obesity-crisis-150873

Coca-Cola Tries To Keep Up With Growing Health Consciousness

(Photo/Marion Doss via Flickr)
(Photo/Marion Doss via Flickr)

By Trisha Marczak, Mint Press News

Coca-Cola sales are plummeting in the wake of a growing movement away from sugary soft drinks in the U.S. and increasing concerns over the link between sugar, obesity and diabetes.

Profits for the global soda giant dropped by 4 percent this quarter, compared to last year at this time. The overall drop was influenced by a total soda sale decline of 4 percent in North America, where consumers are caught in the midst of a battle between retail advertising and government warnings over the negative health impacts of soda.

In June, the American Medical Association labeled obesity a disease, pointing a finger directly at the increase of U.S. sugar consumption and calling on the United States Department of Agriculture to cut sugary drinks out of government-sponsored food assistance programs.

The call to cut back Americans’ intake of sugar comes after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s soda ban, a proposal that would have banned sale of sugary drinks — mainly sodas — that come in containers larger than 16 ounces. While the proposal is still being worked out in the courts, the Bloomberg’s proposal brought the debate about soda’s health impact to the front lines.

Coca-Cola isn’t pointing to the social debate over sugary drinks as the main component of its decline in sales. Instead, it’s talking about the weather.

“Our second quarter volume results came in below expectations, reflecting an ongoing challenging global macroeconomic environment and unusually poor weather conditions in the quarter,” Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent said in a press release following the second-quarter earnings release.

While Coca-Cola claims its downturn in North American soda sales is largely due to weather, arguing that people drink fewer sugary beverages when it’s just not nice out, it comes in the midst of a U.S. health-inspired trend that’s moving consumers away from the sugar-filled drinks that make up the company’s portfolio.

“Soft drinks are the devil product at the moment,” London Metropolitan University nutrition policy professor Jack Winkler told the Wall Street Journal.


Coca-Cola denial and the growing scientific debate

In an attempt to stay relevant in the midst of a society growing more aware of the impacts sugary drinks have on health, Coca-Cola is in the midst of attempting to create a soda that uses low-calorie sweetener while still providing a full-body taste.

This follows a campaign launched at the beginning of the year that attempted to brush off the obesity scare, urging Americans instead to get out, exercise and quench their thirst with a Coke product.

“We’re watching, we’re learning,” Steve Cahillane, who heads Coca-Cola’s North American division told CBS News.

The company is also engaging in the nationwide conversation, portraying itself as a leader in the fight against obesity. A commercial released recently aims to market Coca-Cola as a company intent on reducing calorie consumption and battling the obesity epidemic.

According to the American Medical Association, 36 percent of American adults are obese or overweight. If trends continue, experts predict that could rise to 50 percent of Americans by 2040.

On top of obesity, the nation is also seeing a rise in Type 2 diabetes. A recent Harvard study indicated that people who drank two cans of sugary drinks a day had a 26 percent greater risk of developing diabetes. It also found that men and women who increased sugar consumption with a 12-ounce serving per day gained an average of 4 pounds every year.

“For over 125 years, we’ve been bringing people together. Today we’d like to come together on something that concerns all of us: obesity,” the Coca-Cola commercial states. “The long-term health of our families and the country is at stake. And as the nation’s leading beverage company, we can play an important role.”

The commercial goes on to give a glowing report of just how hard Coca-Cola is working to provide “healthier options” for American consumers, claiming that a growing percentage of products are ones that have been severely limited in caloric content.

“Across our portfolio of more than 650 beverages, we now offer 180 low- and no-calorie choices and most of our full-calorie choices now have low or no calorie versions,” the ad states. “Over the last 15 years, this has helped reduce calories per serving across our industry’s products in the U.S. by about 22 percent.”


Will Coca-Cola win the ‘health’ battle?

By the end of 2013, Coca-Cola plans to help limit portion sizes by offering smaller bottles and cans of various sodas available in 90 percent of the country, according to the advertisement. This adds to what it claims are efforts to help consumers make the right choices.

The commercial states that elementary and high schools throughout the nation have been equipped with Coca-Cola vending machines that have increased the choice of low- and no-calorie drinks, including diet sodas.

According to a Wall Street Journal report in March, one-third of North American Coca-Cola sales came from low- and no-calorie beverages.

“We are committed to bring people together to help fight obesity,” Stuart Kronauge, Coke’s North America Sparkling Beverages Division general manager told Time magazine. “This is about the health and happiness of everyone who buys our products and wants great-tasting beverages, choices and information. The Coca-Cola Company has an important role in this fight.”

In line with Coca-Cola’s push for no-calorie drinks in U.S. schools, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that from 2007 to 2008, 12.5 percent of children were consuming artificially sweetened beverages during a 24-hour time period — double the amount children were drinking 10 years ago.

And while that gives the company a favorable statistic in terms of sugar content, with a 90 percent reduction in beverage calories sold in U.S. middle and high schools since 2004, it doesn’t eliminate health concerns.


Concerns over the no-calorie push

A mock Coca-Cola anti-obesity advertisement addresses this issue, citing health concerns related to the use of no-calorie sweeteners.

“Even though we’ve reduced the calories per serving, these beverages can still cause kidney problems, obesity, metabolic syndromes, cell damage and rotting teeth, which leaves 470 beverages which have extremely high unhealthy levels of calories,” the mock ad states.

The ad that took a stab against Coca-Cola is based on studies conducted on aspartame, the ingredient that is most often found as a substitute for sugar in low- and no-calorie beverages.

It wasn’t too long ago when no-calorie sweeteners were considered dangerous chemicals.

In 1958, Congress required the FDA to ban any additive that was known to cause cancer in animals or humans. In the 1960s, cyclamate was removed from U.S.-sold products when it was linked to cancer. Specifically, chicken embryos that were exposed to aspartame began to develop deformities. A later study showed rats fed the product grew bladder tumors, according to a Time magazine report.

By the 1980s, aspartame moved on to the market, becoming the preferred additive for diet colas. This was after a 1980 Food and Drug Administration Board of Inquiry study that initially deemed the additive to be potentially dangerous and a carcinogen.

“The Board has not been presented with proof of a reasonable certainty that aspartame is safe for use as a food additive under its intended condition of use,” the report states.

However, a year later a new set of studies favorable to aspartame emerged, and it was approved for U.S. market consumption.

In 1985, Monsanto purchased G.D. Searle, the company that owned the aspartame patent. Since then, it has become the go-to for the soda companies, including Coca-Cola in their quest to produce low- and no-calorie beverages not just throughout the U.S., but throughout the global market.

“The key here is to ensure that in every market where we operate to have no- or low-calorie beverages of our main brands available,” Kent said in a conference call, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We do not have that consistently across the world today.”

Celebrating Two Years of Let’s Move! in Indian Country

By Jodi Gillette, White House Blog, May 8, 2013
Jodi Gillette at Chimney RockMatthew Mooney, Jodi Gillette, and Dakota Lorenzo at Chimney Rock (by Harry Burell, Southwest Conservation Corps)

I recently had the honor of attending an event to mark the 2nd Anniversary of Let’s Move! in Indian Country at Chimney Rock National Monument in southwestern Colorado. I hiked and learned about this magnificent landscape on our way to the top with fifty youth from the Southern Ute Montessori Elementary, the Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture Butch Blazer, and a handful of youth from the Pueblos who work with the Southwest Conservation Corps, an AmeriCorps partner organization that engages and trains a diverse group of young women and men and completes conservation projects for the public benefit.

I had lengthy conversations with Aaron Lowden, an Acoma Pueblo, regarding the strength and resiliency of the ancient people who built and lived in that space, and how their journey is connected to his own. Below I’d like to share some of his thoughts:

Guwaatse howba tu shinomeh kuwaitiya eshte e Aaron Lowden madiganashia kuhaiya haanu stu da aakume’ haanu stu da! Hello everyone my name is Kuwaitiya in Acoma and Aaron Lowden in English and I come from the bear clan of the Acoma people. I am a program coordinator for the Southwest Conservation Corps’ (SCC) Ancestral Lands regional office in Acoma Pueblo, NM.

Our day began in the way I began this blog with a greeting to all attending the Let’s Move! in Indian Country (LMIC) 2nd Anniversary event and by saying a prayer. The prayer was done for the entire group before we entered the ancient Puebloan site of the recently designated Chimney Rock National Monument, CO.  It is as a sign of respect for those who came before to let them know we were there to learn from them. When we started at the trail head we were joined by Southern Ute schoolchildren, the Southwest Conservation Corps, the US Forest Service and US Department of Agriculture to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of LMIC. We were also joined by Jodi Gillette, the White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs and Butch Blazer, the Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment at the Department of Agriculture.

Finally, we were ready to do what we all came there to do: get outside and get active. Led by the Chimney Rock Interpretative Association guides, we hiked with anticipation to see the ruins. Walking through the Great Houses on steep inclined trails the group gained knowledge by experiencing the difficult and active living conditions of the original occupants of these sites.

Aaron Lowden Welcomes Hikers to Chimney RockAaron Lowden welcomes hikers and youth to Chimney Rock (by Harry Burell, Southwest Conservation Corps)

We learned how every single bit of rock and mortar had to be transported up to the top of this steep peak. If you were to talk with one of the ancestral inhabitants today and ask them about environmental stewardship, exercising, and eating right it’s reasonable to assume that they wouldn’t know what you were talking about, it’s just how they lived.

Today, Native Americans – particularly youth – have one of the highest obesity rates in the country. Although progress can be a good thing and has made our lives extensively easier, it is imperative that we keep these reminders and retain our old ways to have a healthy future as indigenous peoples. I feel this is even more appropriate when on the subject of Native American issues of our health and environmental stewardship. After all, if we can’t take care of the haatsi (land), how can we expect it take care of us.  By getting outside and being active in our country’s public lands, and by eating right and caring about where our food comes from, we can raise a healthier, more environmentally conscious generation.

After the group finished the hike, the Southwest Conservation Corps Ancestral Lands staff prepared a popular Pueblo dish: green chili stew. We were all ready to eat after our hike! Everyone enjoyed the nutritious meal and discussed the hike while the students played outdoors.

As the day winded down and once everything was finished, we all headed home thankful for the beautiful day we had been given.

Please click here to learn more about Let’s Move! in Indian Country.

Jodi Gillette is the White House Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs