Havre Daily News
ROCKY BOY'S INDIAN RESERVATION - Some diabetes can be prevented through diet and exercise, but people's attitudes must change first. That's the purpose of the 32-mile Diabetes Awareness Walk, which began Wednesday morning at Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation at the Veterans Memorial Park.
The walk ends today at the same spot, after 32 different groups each complete a mile-long stretch. It's one of a few dozen community events scheduled for Native American Week.
The first stretch was completed Wednesday by tribal employees and tribal council members.
Temporary tribal office receptionist Priscilla Blatt was among the walkers Wednesday.
"I'm trying to prevent it," Blatt said. Her mother and grandmother and several aunts and uncles have diabetes.
"We're all on the same page," Blatt said about her siblings. "After my mom found out she had diabetes we kind of all wanted to get screened."
That's the attitude that Priscilla Friede, Diabetes Prevention Project coordinator, wants to hear more of.
The project Friede coordinates will get its official start in November, putting a more than $1.5 million, five-year Indian Health Service grant to work. For the past year Friede and others have been planning the project, tailoring it to the specific needs of Rocky Boy residents.
Friede said she talks to people who are both fearful of diabetes and resigned to the fate of developing the disease.
"A lot of them won't let us screen them," Friede said. "They say they will get diabetes anyway. They don't want to know."
Friede estimated that about 15 percent of enrolled members are diagnosed with diabetes. Others may have diabetes but have not been diagnosed, she said.
Nationally, Native Americans are more than two times more likely to develop diabetes than whites.
The prevention project will target people who are at high risk for developing diabetes, which is determined by blood tests and screening. People who qualify and want to participate will be enrolled in a 16-week intensive lifestyle training program.
Blatt said she and her siblings will see if they qualify.
The program is funded by the Indian Health Service Special Diabetes Program for Indians and is based on a study showing diabetes could be prevented in people who walked at least 150 minutes a week and lost 7 percent of their body fat, Friede said. The program is funded at about $330,000 for five years through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The first year, which ends in October, was a planning year.
While diabetes isn't contagious, Friede hopes the effort to stop it will be.
Some of that effort spread Wednesday with the walk. Blatt invited a friend who works at the tribal office, tribal payroll supervisor Angela Duran, to join her.
Duran, 32, and does not have any close relatives with diabetes. She said she's not worried about developing the disease herself, but is concerned about its effect on her community.
"In the past 10 years it has gotten worse," she said.
Duran said she and Blatt ended up walking an extra mile, after finishing the first one, because they didn't want to stop.
Though Duran said she's already careful about her diet, the walk was a reminder to get regular exercise, too.
Both diet and exercise will be stressed for people who participate in the prevention program. Lifestyle coaches and a physical activity specialist will work with particpants, Friede said. Program coordinators will also plan community events, such as nutritious cooking classes or games to promote physical activity.
Friede hopes to get about 90 people enrolled in the intensive classes. Once the 16-week course is completed, participants are challenged to continue losing weight and eating healthy foods through periodic activities and classes.
Another IHS program that targets people with diabetes will launch in November. That program tries to prevent cardiovascular disease in those diagnosed with diabetes. Rocky Boy is participating in that program, along with the Fort Belknap and Crow Indian reservations.
Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of people with diabetes, Friede said.
Rocky Boy will try to enroll about 20 people into that program, she said.
The Crow Indian Reservation was responsible for inspiring Rocky Boy's walk, she said. There, participants work together to complete a 400-mile relay walk.
"We thought we'd start out a little smaller," she said. "We have a smaller population and a smaller area."
Several hundred Rocky Boy residents have signed up to complete a stretch, including a senior citizens group. Rocky Boy Schools will complete the final leg today, which passes by the schools before ending at the park.