Sault Tribe Health Educators Set to Increase Health Awareness in U.P. Communities

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An article By Gemma Hill

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a famed destination for Nature lovers, with its numerous green spaces and its refreshing Kitch-iti-kipi natural springs, but it is also known for its high rates of smoking and obesity.  According to the Western Upper Peninsula Regional Health Assessment Report to the Community, in the U.P., heart disease, cancer and diabetes are among the most common and costly health problems terms of cost and risk of death. While rates of death caused by heart disease and cancer are similar to that of other states, diabetes in particular is a growing problem, with surveys indicating that age-adjusted death rates owing to this disease in Houghton and Keweenaw are higher than they are on other state counties. Doctors warn that between one third and one half of all current youths will develop diabetes at some point in their lifetime, unless the obesity trend is reversed. Currently, some 68.7 per cent of Western U.P. adults are considered overweight or obese, and some 12.1 per cent of adults are considered heavy drinkers  – i.e. they consume over two alcoholic drinks per day  (men) or more than one drink a day (women). Drinking heavily in a consistent fashion elevates the risk of liver disease and other chronic illnesses.

The light at the end of the tunnel is the news that a group of passionate health experts from the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians Community Health is setting out to reverse these negative health trends, by providing training and education to Tribal members, schools, municipalities, and other important groups.

The team, comprising a number of experts who specialize in exercise physiology, health education, tobacco prevention and cessation, fitness and athletic training, worksite wellness programs, and exercise science, will be providing these groups with vital information regarding the link between lifestyle choices, nutrition and health. They will be focusing on important ways to increase health, wellness and longevity, recommending some of the following tips:

  • Smoking cessation: Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by two to four times, reducing overall health, causing increased absence at work, and high health care costs. It harms nearly all the body’s vital organs, causing a host of chronic diseases, including blindness, pneumonia, diabetes, male erectile dysfunction, and various cancers (including stomach, liver and cervical cancer). The aim is also to increase awareness of the damage that can be caused by prescription medication, marijuana and heavy alcohol use.
  • Increased physical activity: Frequent exercise not only keeps obesity at bay; it also lowers levels of stress hormone, cortisol, thereby reducing the chances of stress-related risky behaviors, including bingeing on junk food, smoking and alcohol consumption. Currently, a small percentage of U.P. adults admitted to spending none of their leisure time on physical activity. This situation is more prevalent with increased age, lower education levels and lower income.
  • Sound nutrition: The most oft-recommended diet to keep heart disease and diabetes at bay is the Mediterranean diet. Comprising daily doses of fruit and vegetables, little meat, plenty of heart-healthy Omega-3 fats (found in fatty fish), grains, seeds and nuts, the diet reduces inflammation, one of the major causes of heart disease and ageing. Doctors also recommend that processed, high-sugar and high-salt foods, and those made with trans fats, be avoided. Currently, very few adults with low incomes consume the required daily consumption of fruit and vegetables, and binge drinking and heavy drinking rates are high, especially in the young adult age group.
  • Stress reduction: Because of the link between chronic stress, heart disease and diabetes, it is vital to keep our stress levels down if we wish to lead a long and healthy life. U.P. residents need to learn vital stress reduction strategies, some of the most powerful of which include controlled breathing exercises, yoga, Tai Chi and mindful meditation. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an ideal introduction into the value of setting aside a little time each day towards stress reduction.
  • More screenings: U.P. citizens also need to take a stronger preventive stance, since surveys show that particularly those hailing from low income/ low educational attainment families under-utilize age-appropriate screening tests to detect illnesses such as breast cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer.