When diabetes strikes, early diagnosis and treatment delay the worst complications, and the Indian health system is a world leader in doing both while spending less than private health care providers, said Assistant Surgeon General Charles W. Grim, director of the Indian Health Service.
"One never hopes to get a disease. ... But if you get diabetes, you should hope you're an American Indian or Alaska native because that system knows how to treat it perhaps better than anyone in the world," Grim said.
Tests of Indian patients with diabetes show they are controlling the high blood-sugar levels that ravage the body, said Dr. Kelly Moore, clinical consultant for the Indian Health Service's National Diabetes Prevention Program in Albuquerque, N.M.
"This is great news," Moore said. "There are a number of positive things happening in Native American and Alaskan Native communities despite the disparate burden we bear," she said.
More than 75 tribes from across the country came to the conference.
"I wanted to get an idea of what other communities are doing in terms of prevention," said Jolene Luna, who came from Zuni, N.M., where she works with a small Navajo community.
Ron Tso, head of an Indian Health Service facility in Chinle, Ariz., said the movement now is toward empowering communities and individuals to take control of their health.
"I think what you're finding is more of a spirit of optimism," Tso said.
The conference continues through Thursday at the Cox Convention Center.
Low-fat recipes approved by the Indian Health Service Division of Diabetes Treatment and Prevention.