Posts Tagged ‘Diabetes and American Indians’

Framing of Diabetes Stories in News Coverage of American Indians and How We Can Improve

October 10, 2011

The “Framing of Diabetes Stories in News Coverage of American Indians and How We Can Improve”  is a pilot study Dr. Teresa Lamsam (KU) and myself did this past summer and presented our small findings at the Native American Journalists Association conference.

First, people might ask why? What is the importance? I think what we found out was that many of our own people are tired of hearing about diabetes and they get “diabetes fatigue”. (yes there is a name for it)  For others,  many of them figure they are going to get it anyway, why bother.  I found myself in this later category as many of my own family have diabetes, and sad as it sounds, I figured it was only a matter of time before I was a diabetic.  But, as journalists, we felt we needed to get some information out on how these stories are being presented and how we as Native journalists can take it into our own hands to do something about our future generations.

In our study, we looked at how the stories were framed either: Episodic or Thematic. Episodic (most news stories): attribute responsibility to individuals or thematic (public health): increasing societal attribution.  And relating background on: societal structure; economic & political context, and the responsibility of government.

This was important because we were looking at who was being blamed for getting diabetes, was it the individual or is it the environment that American Indians live in and should the government help to combat?

We looked at print news coverage of diabetes & American Indians in mainstream papers:
USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, Daily Oklahoman, Associated Press Wire, Anchorage Daily News.  The total number of stories from 1997 to 2011 only amounted to 34.  The average word count was about 572  (Range 105 to 1950),
Focus on children was 26% for the story(9), Disparities mentioned 62% (21) Type 2 diabetes was mentioned 26% (9) and  the word “Epidemic” was mentioned 35% (12).  For the news hook  26% grants or funding was the reason the story was written, 12% conference/seminar/workshop and 12% none apparent.
We looked at the causes for diabetes in the stories, for individual responsibility 69 % of the stories said diet was a factor, 63 % Obesity/Weight Gain, 56 % Lack of exercise/sedentary lifestyle.  And 31% for Biological (insulin resistance) or Genetic reasons.  Just 24% cited the community environment and only 15% food availability or affordability was a cause, which I felt was a little low considering many reservations don’t have access to good foods because most don’t even have major grocery stores on their lands.
The stories did mention some sort of prevention measure, these were mentioned:
–Individual changes behavior 30%
–Drugs and medical devices 7%
–Health care programs/approaches 13%
–Disease complications 20%
–Education and counseling 14%
–Multi-sector responsibility 17%
We had other categories we looked at, but we both plan on expanding this research, this was just a pilot study.  The reasons why though I think are two-fold. To make people aware of how diabetes is making Native people look like they can’t take care of their individual behavior.  There are other reasons that contribute to diabetes in Indian Country, like commodities, food deserts and accessibility to healthy foods because of costs, it should not all be blamed on the individual.
The other reason, was to encourage our Native Journalists to write more or even become a sort of leader in changing diets/lifestyles so others will follow.  Someone asked at our presentation “but what is the news hook?” The news hook should be, if our people now don’t change their diets, start community gardens, community fitness programs, our people are not going to survive!  We managed to make it this far through genocide, only to have our people die through a disease we can stop!   We want to see our people survive this, just like we have survived everything else.

Lastly for myself,  in my own small story, I run, I am active, but I did not eat well.  When Dr. Lamsam and I decided to take this on, we also started to look at our diets.  When I started, I ate out at least twice a week.  I first did a food log and saw that my sodium content was outrageous!  You can find these on the net, many have lots of food/restaurants in them, so all you do in put in how much you ate.  It does get a little tiring after doing this for a month but the idea is to see what food  you should be eating and how much to eat.  Pretty soon you can figure it out on your own without having to log it.

We also were eating organic food, more fiber, and cutting down on our sugar.  Since this project, I have lost 13 lbs without dieting, just making sure I am eating the right foods and right portions.  I don’t punish myself either, if I want something fast or bad, I will eat it, I know everyone has their day!  I actually have enjoyed learning more about what to eat, and what not to.  I also had planned to run my first marathon this October but the plans have been put on hold due to my schedule, and an unfortunate accident I had labor day weekend where I fell very hard on my knees while out for a run. Since then, I have healed but my running is not up to the mileage of what I was prior to my fall. I have faith though, I will accomplish this goal within the next 6 months.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Library of Medicine is starting an exhibit on American Indians and Health.  This exhibit will have new stories added to it, if you are writing stories on health and American Indians, make sure to enter them in the Native Media awards that the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) hosts as this is where NIH was looking for material.  Also, both Dr. Lamsam and myself would also love to read them and include them in our next research project. We would like to show that an increase of health stories can lead to healthier tribal nations.    You can e-mail myself at or leave a comment.