The Tohono O’odham people have the highest rate of
diabetes among Native American tribes. About 50
percent of Tohono O’odham adults have adult-onset
diabetes compared with 4-6 percent of the overall U.S.
population. A number of studies have shown that the
components of many traditional Tohono O’odham
foods, such as tepary beans, cholla cactus buds, and
wild spinach, help regulate blood sugar and reduce the
incidence and effects of diabetes. In this study, the
authors examined the prevalence of traditional Tohono
O’odham food in the diets of tribal members and
assessed the level of interest among tribal members in
incorporating more traditional food into their diets.
The authors surveyed primary caregivers in 128 households,
which contain an estimated 625 household
members. Almost 75 percent of respondents are
female, and about 60 percent are under age 36. Almost
20 percent of respondents suffer from diabetes, and
almost 80 percent reported that at least one family
member has diabetes.
The study found that less than one-fourth of survey
respondents often eat traditional food. Respondents
were asked about a number of possible obstacles to
eating more traditional food. They reported that the
limited availability of traditional food and lack of time
to prepare it are the two main obstacles to eating traditional
Tohono O’odham food. Over 60 percent would
eat traditional food often if it were available. About 13
percent reported that they do not know what the traditional
foods are, and less than 1 percent reported that
they do not like the taste.
The survey shows that 60 percent of the respondents
know that eating many traditional foods helps prevent
diabetes, but just 53 percent know that eating these
foods can help keep diabetics healthier.
The study found that about 27 percent of respondents
receive food stamps, 7 percent receive USDA
commodities through the Food Distribution Program
on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), and 32 percent
participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition
Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
Almost 90 percent of surveyed FDPIR participants
would like to receive traditional food as part of their
commodity package, and almost 90 percent of
surveyed WIC participants would like to receive
supplemental coupons to purchase traditional foods, if
these foods were available. Almost half of surveyed
Food Stamp Program participants would definitely buy
traditional foods with their food stamps, and another
30 percent would probably buy them. Although these
results are based on responses to hypothetical questions,
they suggest that these Federal food assistance
program participants are receptive to incorporating
traditional food into their diets. The authors made
recommendations for how Federal food assistance
programs could help to encourage the consumption of
healthy, traditional Tohono O’odham food.