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What others think: Tribes face obesity epidemic that calls for help

A new study says almost 1 in 5 American 4-year-olds is obese, and the rate is alarmingly higher among American Indian children, with nearly a third of them obese.

Minorities in the United States face enough other challenges without having this one added on. The lead author of the study said that obesity among children so young is a problem because of the lifelong health problems and expense it can cause.

Health problems among minorities in the United States are magnified because minority populations are growing faster, and more minorities' health care expenses are paid by federal or state programs rather than private insurance.

Childhood obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancers, joint diseases and other problems.

Unfortunately, recognizing the problem is easier than fixing it.

Health advocates for minorities in Los Angeles have attempted to restrict any new fast-food restaurants to be built in poor areas, but it's generally illegal to restrain commerce like that. Health advocates all over the country have worked to improve the quality and lower the calorie counts at schools, with mixed success.

On reservations, the healthiness of school lunches and other subsidized meals has generally not risen to the top of the priority list. Deep problems with alcoholism, poverty and violence have generally taken precedence.

Nevertheless, the health and fitness of Native Americans must be addressed. Regrettably, since families and tribes are obviously not having success, federal programs will need to attack the obesity problem through education and subsidy requirements. But having support of the tribes and families is the only practical way that progress will ever be made.

We wish we knew easy solutions to this problem, but we don't. Yet we need to keep trying every creative solution to improve the diet and lifestyle choices Native Americans make to help make lives better.