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Indians are at high risk of diabetes

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American Indians and Alaskan Inuits are twice as likely as whites to suffer from diabetes, the government reports.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the findings show the need for more prevention programs, particularly emphasizing exercise and weight loss, aimed at American Indians.While obesity, inactivity and unhealthy diets can lead to diabetes in all ethnic groups, American Indians may have genetic differences that put them at greater risk, said CDC epidemiologist Nilka Rios Burrows.

The CDC estimated 9 percent of American Indians and Inuits age 20 and older had diabetes, compared with 4.2 percent of non-Hispanic whites. The CDC, in the report, based its estimate on records of 63,400 American Indians and native Alaskans treated for diabetes by the government's Indian Health Service in 1996.

The figure for American Indians is probably an underestimate, Burrows said. That's because only 60 percent of American Indians are eligible for IHS services, and because some IHS sites are run by tribal governments that may choose not to report diabetes figures.

Among American Indians 65 and older, 22 percent were diabetic, compared with 4 percent for those age 20 to 44. And the disease was more prevalent among American Indian women (10 percent) than men (7 percent).