Posted at: 04/12/2014 3:02 PM
Updated at: 04/12/2014 3:07 PM
By: Associated Press
$20 million Health and Wellness Center at Santa Ana Pueblo will also serve as an emergency shelter
SANTA ANA PUEBLO, N.M. (AP) - Santa Ana Pueblo on Saturday broke ground on a $20 million health and wellness center in an effort to turn the tide on rising rates of obesity, diabetes and other health concerns that have plagued Native American communities.
The pueblo kicked off construction of the center with a special ceremony that included children releasing butterflies into the air, the performance of Native dancers decked in full regalia and the pueblo war chief bestowing a blessing on the site where the center will be built.
Santa Ana Pueblo Gov. George Montoya said the tribal council recognized the prevalence of obesity and diabetes and passed a resolution several years ago to build the facility.
"With the creation of the new health and wellness center, it's our goal to achieve and maintain healthy lifestyles and ensure a strong and vigorous community for years to come," he said.
According to a pueblo health study, 59 percent of children seen at the local health clinic between 2010 and 2012 were diagnosed with being overweight or obese, and half of tribal member deaths between 2006 and 2011 were related to diabetes.
The statistics are not much better in other parts of Indian Country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health reports that American Indian and Alaska Native adults are twice as likely as white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes, and they're 1.8 times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to die from the disease.
One of the risk factors is obesity. Federal statistics show American Indians and Alaska Native adults are 60 percent more likely to be obese that non-Hispanic whites.
At Santa Ana Pueblo, tribal officials hope offering a fitness center, basketball courts and a family recreation area as part of the first phase of the wellness project will help turn the numbers around.
The center will also include a child-care room and a commercial kitchen and demonstration area where healthy family food and eating habits will be taught by nutritionists.
Later phases of the project will feature an education building with a computer lab and library.
The center will be designed so it can serve as an emergency shelter during disasters such as wildfires and flooding.
The project is being funded partly by the pueblo, corporate and private donations and state capital outlay money.
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