Diabetes was rare among American Indian and Alaska Native peoples until about 50 years ago. Since then, diabetes has become one of the most common and serious illness in the Tribal Nations of North America (Narayan, 1997). In 2002, more than 100,000 American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) adults, or nearly 15 percent of those receiving care from the Indian Health Service (IHS), were estimated to have diabetes. The total prevalence of diabetes is at least three times that for non-Hispanic whites of similar age. Prevalence rates vary by Tribal Nations, rising to 15.9 percent among the Plains Tribes (CDC, 1998). In a new and alarming turn of events, type 2 diabetes, typically considered an adult disorder, is now emerging in all populations of youth in the United States, including AI/AN populations (Narayan et al., 2000).
In 2001, the congressionally authorized Diabetes Mellitus Coordinating Committee, chaired by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hosted a meeting with the Indian Health Service Division of Diabetes Treatment and Prevention (IHS/DDTP) and the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee (TLDC) to address the seriousness of type 2 diabetes in AI/AN communities. At the meeting, NIDDK accepted the challenge from the TLDC to lead the effort to prevent type 2 diabetes in AI/AN youth by developing a curriculum that would teach the science of diabetes in tribal schools.
What followed was a unique, collaborative effort that included NIDDK, IHS/DDTP, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Native Diabetes Wellness Program (CDC/NDWP), eight Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and the NIH Office of Science Education (NIH/OSE). The result of this collaboration is the DETS Health Is Life in Balance K–12 curriculum.