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Tribal Communities Stay a Step Ahead of Diabetes for Future Generations

February 21, 2006

MESA, Ariz. -The rise in incidents of diabetes in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa and Gila River Indian communities prompted tribal elders and educators to move forward with initiatives targeted at educating the youth in their communities about physical activity and nutrition.

But before teaching the students, classroom and physical education (PE) teachers had to be provided with more information on teaching nutrition and physical activity concepts and activities.

Arizona State University partnered with educators from both communities approximately two years ago to help prepare more than 40 teachers from 13 schools on how to educate students about the benefits of leading healthy lifestyles to encourage diabetes prevention.

Pamela Kulinna, Paul Darst, & Connie Orlowicz ASU Physical Education faculty at the Polytechnic campus, along with their team of researchers, teacher trainers, and graduate students assist classroom and PE teachers in both communities by providing resources and support for curriculum development, guidance on how to motivate students, and direction on acquiring equipment, like pedometers, for their programs.

The initiatives are unique for the schools, many of which had either a limited or no physical education curriculum in place prior to these resources. In many cases, it's up to the classroom teachers to implement the physical activity programs into their curriculum. Some techniques they use are taking activity breaks throughout the day, discussions about food choices and nutrition in general.

"We are working with Physical Education teachers to help them integrate the curriculum and advice provided in Bob Pangrazi's and Darst's Dynamic Physical Education books into their own daily curriculum." Pangrazi is a former ASU professor. They also are adopting Pangrazi's model of "Healthy and Active Schools" currently a pilot program in the Mesa School District.

An offshoot of the initiatives is that the workshops held by ASU provide an opportunity for teachers from the charter, tribal, parochial and public schools serving both communities to come together, something not often done, according to Kulinna. "The interactions build a support structure for the teachers and encourages cross tribal activity relating to physical and health education.

"We expect the increased nutrition education and physical activity will positively impact the behaviors and eating habits of students in the participating schools for a lifetime," said Kulinna.

If successful, these models that are being created for the participating schools will be expanded through the two tribal communities. "We hope to continue working with both communities to develop physical activity programming for additional schools as well as families," said Kulinna.

Funding for both initiatives comes from the U.S. Department of Education Carol A. White PEP grants, with $225,176 for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community project and $360,921 for the Gila River project.

For more information about ASU's involvement, contact Kulinna at (480) 727-1767 or