There are no turtles at the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic’s TURTLE camp Thursday, but there is a whole lot of fun aimed at boosting physical fitness among American Indian children.
TURTLE is an acronym for Teaching Urban Roads To Lifestyle Exercise. Now in its 12th year, the camp has proven to be popular. About 40 kids had signed up for the two-day session during spring break. It is held four times a year, including twice over the summer.
The camp stresses healthy lifestyle choices while also re-enforcing Indian culture. Self-esteem issues are also tackled.
American Indians are more than twice as likely to have diabetes in comparison to non-Hispanic whites, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A study between 1994 to 2004 showed a 68 percent increase in diabetes among American Indian youth aged 15 to 19 years.
And when TURTLE camp director Michelle Dennison comes to camp, those statistics on a spreadsheet morph into the faces of kids she’s trying to help.
“It’s not uncommon to see kids already suffering from hypertension at this stage,” Dennison said.
Type 2 diabetes is also becoming more common among American Indian children.
“Native Americans are at the highest risk of developing diabetes, more than any other minority race in the United States,” Dennison said. “There is a genetic predisposition and often they are not buying the healthiest of food. Family history also plays an important role.”
Campers are weighed and their height measured. Blood pressure is also checked. The information is given to the camper and their parents, along with tips on how to improve the numbers.
“Our goal is to catch those kids early and help the parents target that a little bit better,” Dennison said. “Not every kid gets it, but we do have success stories where a child goes on to lose weight and before long they’re stopping their mom in the grocery story and pointing out healthier choices.”
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TURTLE camp is held twice in the summer and once during the spring and fall. For more information, visit www.