Chronic illness in the indigenous people in the United States

Chronic illness affects individuals of any creed, race, or gender; however the level of severity and disparity can vary. This month, we will explore chronic illness in the indigenous population of the United States. According to the Indian Health Service (IHS), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, surveyed mortality rates of American Indians and Alaskan Natives between 2009-2011 in comparison to all races in the U.S. and found the ratio between those surveyed 1.3 (American Indians and Alaskan Natives to all races in the US). Some of the conditions noted but limited to were diabetes (66.0: 20.8), heart disease (194.7: 179.1), or cancer (178.4: 172.8)(IHS). Chronic health conditions are seen in larger numbers in the American Indians and Alaskan Natives than the combination of all other races in the US. It should also be noted, that the life expectancy of indigenous people is on average 4.4 years less than the rest of the American population combined (Smith, 2019).

These disparities in health outcomes are a result of systemic inequities and lack of equable resources. Indigenous communities struggle to meet the health demands of their community due to limited medical professionals, technology, and funding, for example. Despite the financial assistance to educate the next Indigenous medical workforce, it continues to be a challenge to meet the needs of the community due to the compounding and chronic disparities throughout the history. Furthermore, there are increasingly more evident inadequacies in the healthcare system, particularly in public aid, which is most used health insurance in the communities (Smith, 2019).

The impact of COVID-19 is also another example of the severity of the health disparities in the American Indian and Alaskan Native communities. According to the data collected by John Hopkins University, American Indians and Alaskan Natives are “3.5 more times likely to be hospitalized for the virus,” (HUB). Several tribes have received the COVID-19 vaccine to combat the virus, despite their hesitancy due to the American history of mistreatment of the Indigenous people.

As our society continues to make advances in the medical sciences, the gap between the Indigenous people and other races needs to decrease through the support of the communities and the knowledge of the needs of the people supported by research and cultural competency.


Prevalence of Chronic Disease Among American Indian and Alaska Native Elders

Native Americans: A Crisis in Health Equity

Indian Health Services

New data shows COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on American Indian, Alaska Native tribes

Native American Health: Historical and Legal Context

Ethnic Disparities in Use of Bariatric Surgery in the USA: the Experience of Native Americans

This month’s blog post was written by our Chronic Illness specialist, Aarti S. Felder, MA, LCPC, BCN.

Contact us for more information or assistance in managing your chronic illness.