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Health Fair Teaches Kids Food Choices, Diabetes Prevention

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A Healthy Celebration, an annual, on-campus health fair, brings groups from all over Arizona together to do one thing- educate.

The fair, part of a University of Arizona campus-wide celebration of Native American Heritage Month,  was held last Saturday in front of the Arizona State Museum. Guests enjoyed live music, cultural foods and the chance to win prizes. Tables for organizations from theTucson Waldorf School to the Native Eyes Showcase were scattered all across the lawn, offering games, information and freebies.

Some groups, like the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the Arizona Diabetes Alliance and the American Diabetes Association, came specifically to talk about diabetes, a disease that disproportionately affects Native Americans when compared to the overall U.S. population. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 16 percent of Native Americans have diabetes.

“I think our lifestyle has changed over the decades and we’re not getting out for various reasons,” said Melva Zerklune, a registered dietician with the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. “Technology is great but it has some side effects as far as exercise and eating healthy.”

Zerklune attended Saturday’s event to promote a healthy diet and exercise choices. Children who visited the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona’s table played “pin the spoon on the MyPlate” and learned about traditional, healthy foods.

Diabetes has increased in Native Americans due to an increase in the availability of fast food, Zerklune said.

“It’s awfully easy just to pick up something fast rather than to cook something that might be a little bit more healthy," she said.

Monica Lopez, a superivising nutritionist with the Indian Health Services (IHS) Diabetes Prevention Program, said an increase in farming technology and grocery stores was also to blame.

“We no longer have to work to make food,” she said.


The IHS table offered a bingo game that depicted food choices instead of random numbers. Water was used as the “free space.” Winners received tote bags, hacky sack balls and apples.

Lopez said kids and parents “really got in to the spirit of playing. I think they had fun.”

Another factor in high diabetes rates is a sense of fatalism among those at high risk for the disease.

“They think it’s inevitable that they’ll get it, because it’s so common in their environment,” Lopez said. “We try to reverse that thinking.”

Since prevention strategies are often not widely known, the IHS Diabetes Prevention Program also gives presentations in schoolrooms on nutrition and physical activity. Lopez said many people believe they have to make radical lifestyle changes in order to avoid diabetes, however small changes, like exercising a few times a week, can make a big difference.

“There’s really a lot of work to do, but with this bingo game we’re trying to make it as fun as possible,” she said.


Read about the ninth annual Veteran's Day Gourd Dance.

Learn about University of Arizona Native American Student Affairs


Written by Madelaine Archie You are reading Health Fair Teaches Kids Food Choices, Diabetes Prevention articles

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