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American Indian and Alaska Native Women

Narrative

In 2009, 1.5 percent of the U.S. adult female population, or 1.8 million women, identified themselves as American Indian or Alaska Native, either alone or combined with one or more other races.1 American Indian and Alaska Natives include diverse tribes and cultures distributed throughout the country, but the areas with the largest concentration are in the West, South, and Midwest, particularly Alaska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and Arizona.2 American Indian/Alaska Native communities generally face many challenges as a consequence of displacement and cultural trauma, including high rates of poverty, low rates of educational attainment, and poor health.3,4

In 2007–2009, non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women were more than twice as likely to report their health as fair or poor and to report having been diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic White women. They were also more likely to be obese and to have been diagnosed with hypertension. For example, about one-third (33.9 percent) of non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women were obese, compared to 23.2 percent of non-Hispanic White women. Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women also had the highest rate of past-month cigarette smoking (41.8 percent), as well as high rates of binge and heavy drinking and illicit drug use (see Alcohol Use, Cigarette Smoking, and Illicit Drug Use).

Mirroring higher rates of substance use and chronic conditions, non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native women were also more likely than non-Hispanic White women to die from several specific causes, including unintentional injury, homicide, liver disease, diabetes, and nephritis (kidney inflammation), as well as HIV and hepatitis.

Although many of the health problems afflicting American Indian/Alaska Native women are preventable, geographic, cultural, and financial factors often serve as barriers to accessing quality health care and engaging in healthy behaviors. The Indian Health Service (IHS) helps to provide health care to federally recognized tribes living on or near reservations; yet about 4 in 10 American Indian/Alaska Natives are not served by IHS.3

1 U.S. Census Bureau. 2009 American Community Survey – Public Use Microdata Sample. Analysis conducted by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau.
2 U.S. Census Bureau. 2009 American Community Survey. Table R0203, Percent of the Total Population Who Are American Indian and Alaska Native Alone.
3 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health. Minority Women’s Health: American Indians/Alaska Natives. Accessed 07/19/11.
4 Indian Health Service. IHS Fact Sheets: Indian Health Disparities. Accessed 07/19/11.

Graphs

Data

Selected Health Indicators* Among Women Aged 18 and Older, by Race, 2007–2009
Health Indicator Percent of Women
Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native Non-Hispanic White
*Based on self-reports of health status and doctor-diagnosed health conditions; estimates are age-adjusted.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, 2007–2009. Analysis conducted by the Maternal and Child Health Information Resource Center.
Fair/Poor Health Status 26.3 13.0
Hypertension 17.7 12.4
Diabetes 14.0 6.4
Obesity 33.9 23.2
Deaths per 100,000* Females Aged 15 and Older From Selected Causes, by Race, 2005–2007
Cause Percent of Women
Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native Non-Hispanic White
*Age-adjusted death rates.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Compressed Mortality File 1999-2007. CDC WONDER On-line Database, compiled from Compressed Mortality File 1999-2007 Series 20 No. 2M, 2010.
Diabetes 54.8 22.0
Unintentional Injury 50.5 33.4
Chronic Liver Disease and Cirrhosis 28.9 7.4
Nephritis (kidney inflammation) 20.6 13.7
Suicide 7.4 7.0
Homicide 4.9 2.0
Viral Hepatitis 3.2 1.5
HIV 2.3 0.7

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