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MMWR Surveill Summ. 2003 Aug 1;52(7):1-13.

Surveillance for health behaviors of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Findings from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, 1997-2000.

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Division of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.



In the United States, disparities in risks for chronic disease (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are evident among American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) and other groups. This report summarizes findings from the 1997-2000 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) for health-status indicators, health-risk behaviors, and HIV testing and perceived risk for HIV infection among AI/ANs, compared with other racial/ethnic groups in five regions of the United States.




BRFSS is a state-based telephone survey of the civilian, noninstitutionalized, adult (i.e., persons aged > or =18 years) population. For this report, responses from the 36 states covered by the Indian Health Service administrative areas were analyzed.


Region and sex-specific variations occurred in the prevalence of high-risk behaviors and health-status indicators. For example, the prevalence of current cigarette smoking ranged from 21.2% in the Southwest to 44.1% in the Northern Plains, and the awareness of diabetes was lower in Alaska than in other regions. Men were more likely than women to report binge drinking and drinking and driving. For the majority of health behaviors and status measures, AI/ANs were more likely than respondents of other racial/ethnic groups to be at increased risk. For example, AI/ANs were more likely than respondents of other racial/ethnic groups to report obesity (23.9% versus 18.7%) and no leisure-time physical activity (32.5% versus 27.5%).


The 1997-2000 BRFSS data demonstrate that health behaviors vary regionally among AI/ANs and by sex. The data also reveal disparities in health behaviors between AI/ANs and other racial/ethnic groups. The reasons for these differences by region and sex, and for the racial/ethnic disparities, are subjects for further study. However, such patterns should be monitored through continued surveillance, and the data should be used to guide prevention and research activities. For example, states with substantial AI/AN populations, and certain tribes, have successfully used BRFSS data to develop and monitor diabetes and tobacco prevention and control programs.


Federal and state agencies, tribes, Indian health boards, and urban Indian health centers will continue to use BRFSS data to develop and guide public health programs and policies. The BRFSS data will also be used to monitor progress in eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities. Regional Indian health boards, tribal epidemiology centers, and Indian Health Service Area Offices can use the findings of this report to prioritize interventions to prevent specific health problems in their geographic areas. Moreover, tribes and other institutions that promote AI/AN health care can use the report to document health needs when applying for resources.

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