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  • Aboriginal diabetes epidemic linked to loss of mother tongue

    I don't think we should be surprised at this.

    A University of Alberta researcher has found the diabetes epidemic among First Nations is linked to the declining knowledge of their indigenous languages.

    Senior author Richard Oster said prior to the 1950s diabetes was unheard of in Canadian aboriginal populations, but it has since exploded to rates two to five times higher than in the general population.

    "What we found is that those communities that have more people speaking and knowing their language, and who are presumably more connected to their culture, have significantly less diabetes," Oster said. "In fact, some of those communities had diabetes rates that were lower than the general public rate."

    The researchers analyzed diabetes rates on 31 First Nations communities in Alberta and compared them to the indigenous language rates.
    Aboriginal diabetes linked to loss of language | Barrie Examiner

    In a way this is a nice illustration of "correlation is not causality" - because diabetes isn't caused by the sounds you make with your mouth, but with what you put in it.

    But, of course, one immediately sees the connection. It's not an accident that loss of a traditional language does correlate well with increased rates of diabetes, because loss of a traditional language is a pretty good marker for loss of a traditional way of life - and that includes traditional foodways.

    Again:

    Researchers compared the diabetes rate with other factors, such as median household income, unemployment, and high school completion, and found only the knowledge of traditional language was a significant predictor of the disease.
    Not even "household income, unemployment, and high school completion" count as much. And that's kind of surprising, since increased consumption of fast-food does seem to go with socio-economic status. But it pales into insignificance besides this.

    I wonder how much more evidence is necessary before public health bodies in Canada, and elsewhere, change their advice.

    This film with Dr. Jay Wortman is seven years old now (see below). Seven years people in authority have been closing their eyes to evidence and twiddling their thumbs while diabetes and obesity rates skyrocket and lives are broken. And diabetics are still being told to eat up their carbs, which is advice so stupid as to be scarcely believable.


  • #2
    Welcome to civilization. We'll lift you up and teach you our ways. And give you our ailments, too. Aren't you glad we saved you?
    Stop by to visit at http://primalways.net
    Old Paths ... New Journeys

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by John Caton View Post
      Welcome to civilization. We'll lift you up and teach you our ways. And give you our ailments, too. Aren't you glad we saved you?
      Yeah, IIRC civilisation means in origin city life. And I guess you could make an argument for saying that it takes a city to develop a really complex and interesting culture. But it's a moot point whether people are any happier. And a complex and interesting culture doesn't do you much good if you're cut off in your prime by the "diseases of civilisation".

      The same problem with diabetes exists with Australian indigenous populations.

      It is estimated that Aboriginal Australians are 3-4 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than the general population. Type 2 diabetes represents a serious health problem for Indigenous people, who tend to develop it at an earlier age compared with other Australians, and can have an excess of avoidable complications.
      Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

      Diabetes - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet

      It seems likely that both these populations, having lived as hunter-gatherers till relatively recently, are likely to be more genetically vulnerable to excess carbohydrate in the diet than, say, a population from the Fertile Crescent. Some selection must have taken place over the past few thousand years in the latter population. And I'd guess Canadian First Nations people, coming from the frozen North, where carbohydrate is going to have been in very short supply for much of the year for time out of mind, are in a really hard place.

      The interesting thing is that the study authors found such a strong correlation with language loss with the First Nations people - and then seem not to have been able to get their heads around what they'd found.

      Did you notice what the lead author said?

      "Try picturing yourself in those shoes. You live in poverty, you are discriminated against every day and your life is in chaos. Then think about residential schools and the impact they have had and continue to have on families. Eating healthy is just not really up there on the list of priorities. It's difficult to do," Oster said.
      So in other words he's collapsed back into a socio-economic explanation although his own data had shown him that:

      Researchers compared the diabetes rate with other factors, such as median household income, unemployment, and high school completion, and found only the knowledge of traditional language was a significant predictor of the disease.
      Not to make light of anyone's socio-economic problems. But that's a different issue. And they found what they found.

      What people can't seem to get their heads around is that you can be a relatively wealthy, educated and successful person, who knows what the "healthy eating" advice put out by government is, who follows that advice and who consequently gets sick. That happened to Dr. Jay Wortman, mentioned above. The same happened to Dr. William Davis, who as a cardiologist knew exactly what he was supposed to do for his heart and did it to disastrous effect.

      It seems to me that people still cannot see this, so they have a kind of blindness with respect to data.

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      • #4
        I think it may not just be about eating and traditional foodways (though that's part of it, of course). Maybe it's about stress and social factors? A Native American person - or for that matter, any person - who speaks the language of their ancestors, is familiar with their cultural practices, maybe has a certain amount of pride in their heritage, has a source of strength that sustains them in times of discrimination (which any Native American person is likely to encounter quite often). A Native American person who has lost their language and heritage won't have that source of strength, and will encounter a lot more social stress - which is a disease risk in itself, and which also leads to other risky behavior.

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        • #5
          Obviously, speaking English is the cause of diabetes.

          M.

          Comment


          • #6
            That's a very interesting thought, meepster. I take you to be saying that the loss of culture causes "stress". And I'm taking it that "stress" in this sense means a kind of social disruption and dislocation, since culture gives people a framework for understanding themselves, feeling at home - even "proud" as you say.

            There's a certain amount of stuff around on what ceremony does for us, as well. When you take part in a ceremony, you enact a shared condition, you see - or rather experience in quite a profound way - that your fellows live the life you do with its difficulties and strains, so that there's a sense in which you're not alone, and this reconciles you to life. This is why Yeats says:

            How but in custom and in ceremony
            Are innocence and beauty born?
            A Prayer for my Daughter | Academy of American Poets

            Sure, all that's very interesting.

            Some of the kids living the most disrupted lives in modern Britain are said to be from the aboriginal British population - i.e. whites. Think of poor kids living in urban environments, particularly boys (girls seem more adaptable).

            I'm inclined to agree with you. I'm sure all this is very bad for health.

            But I think that's a more general health problem.

            The specific problem in this Canadian (also Australian) story is diabetes. That's a disease of insulin resistance:

            Sam – Bagels without butter? Ron Rosedale: Keep the butter; give up the bagel | Me and My Diabetes

            There's a quite understandable aetiology there. And why traditional foodways don't lead to the same problem should also be quite obvious. (That it seems not to be to the study authors with the data in front of them really interests me: this is a huge problem.) I think that we're not talking about the social comfort of traditional societies - Canadian, Australian, British, French, whatever, here. We're talking about the embedded wisdom of traditional societies as regards what to eat. They know about that. That's concrete knowledge accumulated over generations.
            Last edited by Vainamoinen; 01-27-2015, 01:24 PM.

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            • #7
              The question of loss of native language is an interesting one. I don't know about other countries but in the U.S. there was a concerted effort to eradicate native languages. Native American boarding schools existed up until the 1970s, the children were severely punished for speaking their native languages. It only takes one generation to wipe out a language, therefore children must speak a language if it is to survive.

              I think it goes without saying that if you separate a child from it's family to the point where they can not even communicate in the same language you are going to also lose the culture. Many native American languages are so complex it is literally impossible to learn them as an adult, sure you may learn a few words but fluency is not possible. To what degree the structure of a language influences the way we think and perceive the world is also something to consider.
              Life is death. We all take turns. It's sacred to eat during our turn and be eaten when our turn is over. RichMahogany.

              Comment


              • #8
                I think that diabetes, just like anything else, is exacerbated by stress, depression, family disruption, and other social and psychological factors. Someone who is completely disconnected from their heritage, or who has internalized the racist assumption that a Native American heritage is a source of shame, is going to be more stressed and depressed. Depressed people don't take good care of their health. Whether or not you know any native foodways, if you're too depressed and downtrodden to feel any pride in those native foodways or in your people, you won't want to follow them or to take care of yourself in other ways.

                Also, I don't know any Native Americans, but I know that if I were in their shoes I'd be terribly terribly angry. To have been subject to a genocide and then to have the perpetrators of that genocide celebrated and, in some cases, even canonized (as Father Junipero Serra recently was, despite the fact that he committed genocide) can't be a comfortable thing. To have your children learn in school that the genocide against your people wasn't a big deal, to have your culture and language essentially destroyed, and then to watch the descendants of the perpetrators of that genocide just go on like it's no big deal at all (there are so many streets and places named after Junipero Serra here in CA) - I'd be pissed (just imagine living on Hitler Avenue if you're a Jew). Being pissed all the time isn't good for one's mental health or physical health, either.

                Someone who is in touch enough with their heritage to actually speak one's native language and to know something about their culture would at least have some hope to balance out the terrible history of genocide and dispossession. That was true of my people. Yes, there were countless genocide attempts, but our language and our culture survived, and we can take some comfort in that. So that might counterbalance the social stress somewhat.
                Last edited by meepster; 01-27-2015, 03:35 PM.

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                • #9
                  Relevant: 06.04.2004 - Conferences focus on saving native languages

                  (and hey, if they can do with Ohlone languages what the Jews did with Hebrew, more power to them)

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                  • #10
                    Speaking their native language usually indicates swimming upstream against tremendous odds. Those who do are very protective of their culture and seek out their traditional foods. The ones who succeed are reducing the inroads of modern corporate disease.
                    Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans | Weston A Price
                    and oolichan grease is a surprisingly good native staple.
                    Which is the preferred fuel: sugar or fat? | Dr. Jay's Blog

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                    • #11
                      Speaking their native language usually indicates swimming upstream against tremendous odds. Those who do are very protective of their culture and seek out their traditional foods. The ones who succeed are reducing the inroads of modern corporate disease.
                      Guts and Grease: The Diet of Native Americans | Weston A Price
                      and oolichan grease is a surprisingly good native staple.
                      Which is the preferred fuel: sugar or fat? | Dr. Jay's Blog

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I've always wondered why the German stopped on my father's side of the family. My great-grandfather came from Germany in the early 1900s, lumberjacked across Canada, and walked into the US. I vaguely remember/misremember being told that he did not speak English. My grandfather definitely spoke English, and my father said he spoke no German (at least around the family). Thus, my father speaks no German, nor do I.

                        Hm, my father's also a diabetic...

                        M.

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