Health | National

Native Sun News: 'Let's Move! in Indian Country' hits a milestone

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

WASHINGTON, DC –– On June 12, the anniversary of the day United States' First Lady Michelle Obama launched the “Let’s Move! in Indian Country” initiative, she congratulated participants with a short presentation that summed up their challenges. Native Sun News obtained a transcript by special request in order to publish the unabridged speech.

The initiative aims to address “the obesity health crisis” that young American Indians and Alaska Natives are facing. It is an interagency collaboration with elected tribal leaders in rural, reservation communities and other community leaders, such as school officials and urban Indian center coordinators whose job is to promote health, wellness, nutrition and physical activity.

Participants include representatives from the White House Domestic Policy Council, the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Education.

Obesity is the No. 2 cause of preventable mortality in the United States, following cigarette smoking. Let’s Move! in Indian Country is part a program addressing the issue across the entire nation’s population.

The campaign’s kickoff was the sowing in the White House garden of “the Three Sisters” – corn, beans, and squash – in recognition of the wisdom evident in the Native American tradition of companion planting.

Let’s Move! in Indian Country is based on the stated concept that “Throughout our country’s history, Native communities have provided some of the best examples of healthy food and sustainable community-based practices,” and that many community leaders in Indian country “are continuing to lead by example by following traditional paths that have existed for thousands of years.”

The Obama administration considers childhood obesity in the United States to be a national health crisis.

Over the past three decades, rates of childhood obesity have tripled, and today nearly one in three children is overweight or obese. An equal proportion – one in three – of all children born after 2000 will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives, and this is at an all-time high.

If nothing is done to solve the problem, one-third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.

A study of 4-year-olds found that obesity is more than two times more common among Native American and Alaskan Native children (31 percent) than among white (16 percent) or Asian (13 percent) children. This rate is higher than any other racial or ethnic group studied.

In 2002, more than 100,000 Native American and Alaskan Native adults, or nearly 15 percent of those receiving care from the Indian Health Service, were estimated to have diabetes.

Another study of children 2 to 4 years old shows that Native American and Alaskan Native children are the only demographic that has experienced a continuing increase in obesity levels since 2003.

According to the Let’s Move! in Indian Country mission statement:
The threat to Indian country is not just to health, however. Childhood obesity weakens the fabric of Indian communities, putting the next generation at increased health risk and threatening tribal ways of life.

Overweight children are overwhelmingly more likely to be obese as adults, and obesity in adulthood robs the community of active community elders. On average, obese adults live shorter lives and are less able to contribute to leadership roles in their communities.

Native communities depend on their younger generations to uphold tribal traditions and culture and to pass their heritage on to the next generation. However, today’s Native youth may not grow to be as old or as active as their elders.

Maintaining lasting and vibrant communities in Indian country starts with childhood health. Healthy children are better able to support their communities and to carry on their proud tribal traditions.

Having fit, energetic and vibrant communities is the Indian Country way, and by acting now, we can ensure that that tradition continues for generations to come.

The transcript of first lady Michelle Obama’s speech in Denver on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Let’s Move! in Indian Country initiative, from the U.S. Department of Interior, is as follows:
Hello everyone, and welcome to the Bureau of Indian Education Summer Learning Institute. It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year since we planted the Three Sisters in the White House garden to help kick off our Lets Move! in Indian Country initiative.

Now, this is such an important effort. We know that children in American Indian and Alaskan Native communities experience higher rates of obesity.

We know they’re more likely to develop related diseases like Type 2 diabetes than the national averages. But we also know that there are so many people in these communities who want to make a difference for the health of their kids. And that’s what has defined Let’s Move! in Indian Country in our first year.

We’ve seen tribal nations develop food policy councils to examine the food habits of their communities; schools have reintroduced lacrosse programs; Native businesses are adding healthy, traditional foods like buffalo meat into school lunches; the Bureau of Indian Education implemented a new health and wellness policy for its schools; and nearly 10,000 people across Indian country earned a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award for getting up and exercising.

So we have come a very long way, but we know that there’s more left to do – and that’s where all of you come in.

We need your help to get more schools serving healthy foods and finding new ways to get kids to get active.

We need more doctors and nurses talking to parents and kids about their nutrition habits.

We need more leaders bringing people together from businesses, government, nonprofits and faith groups to create solutions that work for their communities. Because, in the end, that’s really what Let’s Move! is all about. It’s not about what happens in Washington. It’s about people just like all of you, taking action on behalf of your kids, your community and our country.

And this first year of Let’s Move! in Indian Country has convinced me again and again that if we keep stepping up, if we keep innovating and getting people involved, then we can give our children the healthy futures they deserve.

So thank you all for everything you’ve already done and I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

(Contact Talli Nauman at