The Pima Indians on the Gila River Reservation have the highest recorded rate of diabetes of any population in the world – but before World War II, diabetes was rarely seen among the 12,000 Indians who live there. The decline of farming set the stage for the crisis, says Carolyn Smith-Morris, assistant professor of anthropology and author of Diabetes Among the Pima (University of Arizona Press, 2006). The dramatic change of diet and activity levels as well as a genetic predisposition to the disease led to the epidemic, which affects 50 percent of the adults on the reservation. “This epidemic is about a culture defining its path in an industrial world,” says Smith-Morris, a medical anthropologist who has spent the past 10 years studying the causes and conditions of the health crisis and developing appropriate preventive strategies. She sees positive signs of change as tribal officials take more control of their health care system and health education. Learn more at her faculty Web site.
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