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Med Anthropol. 2001;20(1):25-64.

A reconsideration of the origins of the type 2 diabetes epidemic among Native Americans and the implications for intervention policy.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology and Ethnic Studies, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 89154-5012, USA.


Type 2 diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in many Native American communities in North America. The overwhelming majority of physicians, biomedical researchers, and medical ecologists continue to explain the astoundingly high prevalence rates of diabetes among Native Americans and other high prevalence populations in terms of yet-to-be-identified genetic factors. Recent experimental and epidemiological research, however, has brought to light an etiological alternative to the genetic-predisposition model. This body of research suggests that type 2 diabetes may result initially from fetal malnutrition and, in subsequent generations, be propagated via perturbations in the intrauterine environment. Native American populations at greatest risk for diabetes today are the ones most likely to have endured severe nutritional stress in their recent histories, thus experiencing the conditions that are most conducive to the diabetic developmental sequence. If further substantiated, the implications of the fetal-origin model of diabetes for diabetes intervention programs are profound.

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