Utah American Indians Battle High Rates Of Chronic Illness

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A new Utah Department of Health (UDOH) report uncovers health issues among the state’s American Indian population, whose members are disproportionately affected by chronic health problems:

• More than 11% of Utah’s American Indian population has diabetes, compared with 6% of all Utahns.

• Utah American Indians die from complications of diabetes at nearly double the rate of all Utahns, with 147.4 diabetes deaths/100,000 Utah American Indians compared to 73.0 deaths/100,000 Utahns statewide.

• The adult Utah American Indian asthma rate of 11.5% exceeds the state rate of 7.9%.

• 20.5% of Utah American Indians report poor physical health, compared to 13.9% of all Utahns,


• 22.2% report poor mental health compared to 15.2% of all Utahns.

Utah American Indians also report lower rates of health care coverage, prenatal care, and physical activity. American Indian health programs are critically under-funded nationwide.

The Utah American Indian smoking rate of 21.2% is nearly double the state rate of 11.1%. Addictive commercial tobacco products are linked to many chronic health problems. Smoking commercial cigarettes constricts blood vessels and impairs circulation, increasing the risk of amputations in diabetics. Exposure to cigarette smoke can trigger asthma attacks and can lead to the development of asthma in children.

UDOH is working to combat these problems. The Tobacco Prevention and Control Program has been funding the American Indian community coalition, Networking to Tobacco Sacred in Utah, which works to distinguish between traditional and commercial forms of tobacco and to reduce the use of commercial tobacco among American Indians.

Also, the Utah Diabetes Prevention and Control Program (DPCP) is partnering with seven federally-recognized American Indian Tribes and one urban program in Utah.

One project with the Navajo Nation uses print, audio, and video to improve diabetes education and care. The UDPCP supports Tribal efforts to reduce the burden of diabetes among Tribal members, as identified by the Tribes themselves. The UDOH Asthma Program worked with the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute to conduct a needs assessment and provide training to Tribal Health Center staff and Tribal members on how to better manage asthma and what to do when someone has an attack.

In addition to health data, the report provides a map of Utah tribal lands, demographics, and sources for more information on American Indian health.