Education

Indian Youths Found Prone to Unhealthful Behaviors

By Peter West — April 01, 1992 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
  • Among Indian students, nearly 22 percent of the female respondents and roughly 12 percent of the males reported attempting suicide. For students whose families had a history of suicide, that figure climbed to 30 percent. Those rates compare to figures of 10.3 percent of girls and 6.2 percent of boys in the white population.

Although the majority of Native American students face health risks no greater than those faced by non-Indians, a “sizable minority’’ of them are particularly prone to suicidal tendencies, alcohol abuse, and other unhealthful behaviors, according to a survey published by the American Medical Association.

“This is the most devastated group of adolescents in the United States,’' said Michael D. Resnick, an epidemiologist and one of the authors of the report, at a press conference here last week.

The survey of 13,454 youths in grades 7 through 12 was conducted by a team of researchers under the direction of Robert W. Blum, a physician at the University of Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis.

Their findings were published in last week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Responses to the survey came from Indian and Alaskan Native students attending schools in reservation communities served by the Indian Health Service.

In addition to Alaska, the survey contains responses from students who reside within the boundaries of I.H.S. service areas in South Dakota, New Mexico, Minnesota, Montana, Tennessee, and Arizona.

The researchers noted that because the survey was school-based and reflective of rural communities, it “cannot be regarded as statistically representative’’ of all Indian youths.

Nor, they said, could it represent all rural Indians, because it failed to include responses from chronically absent students and from those who had left school.

But, they added, “what is particularly important is that the underrepresentation of youths at highest risk suggests that the data are in fact conservative estimates of the prevalence of high-risk behaviors.’'

Suicide, Abuse Cited

The survey results, which were compared with responses to a similar survey of white rural teenagers in Minnesota, indicate that:

  • Only 46 percent of the Indian students lived in two-parent homes, compared with 87 percent of the teenagers in the control group.
  • Roughly 22 percent of Indian 12th-grade girls reported having been the victims of sexual abuse, compared with 19 percent of the white girls surveyed.
  • Approximately 27 percent of Indian 12th graders reported drinking alcohol at least once a week. While this finding was not significantly different from the drinking behavior of white teenagers, the survey found that Indian students began drinking at a younger age.
  • Among Indian students, nearly 22 percent of the female respondents and roughly 12 percent of the males reported attempting suicide. For students whose families had a history of suicide, that figure climbed to 30 percent. Those rates compare to figures of 10.3 percent of girls and 6.2 percent of boys in the white population.
  • Almost one-fifth of the Indian students reported having been “knocked unconscious’’ by another person at least once.

The survey also indicates that many young, sexually active Indians fail to comprehend the use of contraceptives as “an investment in oneself for the future.’'

“For a significant minority of American Indian youth in the present study, there is no such sense of future,’' the authors note.

And, among the minority of Indian children who face severe health risks, fewer of them seem to take advantage of preventive health care than do their white peers.

“This discrepancy is all the more dramatic considering that health services are available without financial barriers on all the reservation communities surveyed,’' the researchers said.

Culture-Specific Remedies

The survey also found a consistent association between respondents who reported that they did poorly in school and those who displayed multiple physical, social, and psychological risk indicators.

“Poor school achievers were one-third as likely to have previously attempted suicide, and they were almost twice as likely to indicate that school officials do not care about them and that their family does not understand them,’' the researchers noted.

The researchers suggest that any efforts to improve conditions for the children most at risk should employ “culturally appropriate’’ strategies that build on the strengths of community identity and culture as well as on “the exuberance, inherent optimism, and resilience’’ of young people.

“ ‘Culturally appropriate’ not only refers to cultural considerations that emanate from Indian-white differences, but also variations in health concerns and health promotion strategies at the tribal level,’' they concluded.

In a related development, the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee held a hearing last month on a measure that would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services to distribute $153 million in federal grants over eight years to tribal programs designed to combat fetal alcohol syndrome.

Native American leaders consider the syndrome, which leads to mental retardation and severe behavior and learning difficulties, a major problem in the Indian community. (See Education Week, Jan. 22, 1992.)

A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 1992 edition of Education Week as Indian Youths Found Prone to Unhealthful Behaviors


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP