TULALIP — Health officials at the Tulalip Tribes have joined with the University of Washington in a five-year study of the cardiovascular health of tribal members.
With a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Karina Walters, director of the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute at the University of Washington, hopes to find out how prevalent heart disease is among tribal members.
“We already have some baseline rates, but we’ll look more in-depth at everything from environmental features and geography for things that might be affecting health and wellness,” Walters said. “This will be a comprehensive analysis.”
Walters said Tulalip tribal leaders asked her to develop a diabetes study on tribal members, but when a grant for cardiovascular health was awarded, the university decided to broaden the scope of the study.
More than 70 percent of the university staff members working on the program are enrolled in American Indian tribes, Walters said.
The program began a year ago, with the first year dedicated to developing the program. Next month, the team from the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute will begin its survey of tribal members to determine the prevalence of heart disease. They’ll also look at the type of foods available within a convenient distance from the Tulalip Indian Reservation, and whether tribal members who practice traditional lifestyles experience lower rates of disease.
From there, researchers will create a program for prevention and intervention of heart disease, Walters said. The program will most likely encourage a traditional diet of fish, meat and vegetables and include a training component on recreating an environment where those resources thrive.
“At the end of five years, we hope to have a successful cardiovascular disease prevention program that could be used in other Northwest native communities,” Walters said.
By the numbers
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer among American Indians, causing more than 25 percent of all deaths, according to the American Heart Association.
Deaths caused by heart disease in Washington state are lower than the national average for every ethnicity except for American Indians, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Snohomish County, residents die of heart disease at a rate of 405 people per 100,000 deaths, but American Indians in Snohomish County die of heart disease at a rate of 482 people per 100,000 deaths.
Only African Americans die of heart disease at a higher rate, at 483 people per 100,000 deaths.