Arizona youth joins tribal officials to push for diabetes program funds

WASHINGTON – Alton Villegas offered an unusual call to action Wednesday for an 11-year-old boy: “Destroy the ice cream man.”

Alton is a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community where nearly 10 percent of tribal members have Type 2 diabetes, including members of his family.

“My mom and my grandma have diabetes, a lot of people in Salt River have diabetes, sadly,” said Alton, who has been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. “I think a lot of people have diabetes because they don’t eat healthy and they don’t exercise.”

That’s what brought Alton to Washington Wednesday, where he was the youngest of six witnesses urging the Senate Indian Affairs Committee to reauthorize the Special Diabetes Program for Indians.

The program grants $150 million a year to about 300 programs that push diabetes prevention to tribes in 35 states, said Rear Adm. Chris Buchanan, acting director of the Indian Health Service. The program will end after September if it is not reauthorized.

Since the program began in 1997, tribal obesity rates have remained stubbornly high, said Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota. He said Native Americans still have a greater chance of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes than any other group in America, and that diabetes is their fifth-leading cause of death.

But Hoeven, the committee chairman, also acknowledged at the hearing that the grants have helped lower diabetes “and its complications, such as limb amputations, heart disease and kidney failure. But there’s still more work to be…

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