Plains men at high risk from heart disease
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JUNE 27, 2001

According to federal health statistics released on Tuesday, heart disease is the number one killer of Americans in the nation.

Nowhere does this ring more true than the Plains, where Indian men are more likely to die of heart disease than their counterparts elsewhere.

Of the 35 states where data for Indian men could be accurately reported, four out of the six worst were located in the Plains. For the years between 1991 and 1995, Indian men ages 35 and over in four states -- South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, and North Dakota -- died from heart disease at rates which dwarfed the rest of Indian Country.

Neighboring Montana wasn't far behind, either, ranking 27th, painting a stark contrast to conditions one hundred years ago, when Plains Indians enjoyed height and health advantages over almost every other group in the nation -- and even the world -- according to researchers at Ohio State University

"The modern perception that Native Americans were hapless and in poor health probably comes from the era at the turn of the century when Indians were put on reservations," said Richard Steckel, an anthropology professor at the school and co-author of a study on Plains health.

Now, Arie Shiroma, a researcher based on the Pine Ridge Reservation, tells The Argus Leader, the heart disease risk for Indian men is "scary."

South Dakota, home to a number of Sioux tribes, ranked the worst in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's four-year study released last week. The rate was 1,140 per 100,000; representing 263 deaths.

Nebraska, home to four federally recognized tribes, came in next at 1,079 per 100,000; or 66 deaths from 1991 to 1995. Thurston County, location of the Winnebago Tribe and Omaha Tribe, had one of the higher rates in the state.

Wyoming ranked 33rd with a death rate of 929 per 100,000; or 44 deaths. North Dakota came in 30th with 849 per 100,000; representing 102 deaths.

In comparison, the average death rate for all American Indian and Alaska Native men was 465 per 100,000. Low rates of death were found in areas of Oklahoma, mostly among the Cherokee Nation, and in Arizona and New Mexico, mostly among the Navajo Nation.

But the CDC warns all statistics for Native men must be taken with caution. Since many Native Americans are misreported on death certificates, the CDC considers the data it has collected as low.

One or two cases in a county with a small Native population can result in a high death rate. This situation occurred in several rural counties in the Plains where American Indians and Alaska Natives made up less than 1 percent of population.

Nationally, African-American men had the highest rate of death from heart disease (841 per 100,000), followed by White men (666). American Indian and Alaska Native men (465), Hispanics (432), and Asian-Americans (372) rounded out the list.

Health behaviors that contribute to heart disease include smoking, a high fat diet, lack of exercise and obesity. Low-income men are more likely to develop heart conditions.

Today on Indianz.Com:
Indian Country ranks high in deaths (6/27)

Get the Study Results:
Heart Disease Mortality Among Men (CDC 6/20)

Related Reports:
Deaths: Preliminary Data for 1999 [pdf 403k] (NVSR 49, No. 3. 49 pp. (PHS) 2001-1120)
Trends in Indian Health 1998-1999 (IHS 1999)
Regional Differences in Indian Health 1998–99 (IHS 1999)

Relevant Links:
Indian Health Service -

Related Stories:
Mont. Indian men cited for heart disease risk (6/21)
Cancer deaths increase in Indian Country (6/6)
Center to study health disparities (11/1)