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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Navajo junk food tax can serve as positive example

    A proposal for a 2 percent sales tax increase on junk food purchased in the Navajo Nation, which covers more than 27,000 square miles extending throughout northeastern Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, is currently heading to the Navajo Nation Council for consideration. The extra funds raised would be used to build wellness centers, basketball courts, parks, picnic grounds and gardens while also sponsoring health education classes.

    The Office of Minority Health reported that Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are 60 percent more likely to be obese than non-hispanic whites, and the American Diabetes Association reported this number has been rising over the past 20-30 years. It is more important than ever to address these health concerns and provide education to younger generations that will encourage healthy eating habits for not only the Native American community, but for the American public as a whole.

    The tax increase is not drastic enough to completely stop the consumption of unhealthy foods like chips, candy, cookies and soda, but it discourages excessive purchasing of empty calories. At the same time, the money earned would be used to directly combat obesity and type 2 diabetes by giving the community more places to exercise and receive health education.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death among Native Americans. Diabetes, poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity are factors that put individuals at risk, and these factors would all be combated by this tax increase and the programs it funds.

    “I think it is a step in the right direction,” said Jennie Joe, a professor emerita from the Department of Family and Community Medicine in the College of Medicine. “It at least promotes the idea that people in leadership have an understanding of the problem and are concerned enough to do something about it.”

    If this proposal proves to be successful in combating health problems throughout this community, it could spur other initiatives to help other at-risk groups. Joe said the behavioral changes and mindset that could result from this proposal have the potential to spread to other groups of people.

    “It is very difficult to convince stores located near the reservation to take similar action … but sometimes neighboring communities pay attention,” Joe said. “If people understand, in their own terms, that certain foods aren’t healthy for them, maybe when they go off the reservation they will likely make more intelligent choices.”

    The reality is, 49.5 percent of non-hispanic blacks, 40.4 percent of Mexican Americans, 39.1 percent of Hispanics and 34.3 percent of non-Hispanic whites are obese, according to the CDC. Statistics don’t just reveal a problem within the Native American community, but in American culture as a whole.

    With such terrifyingly high statistics, now is the time to experiment with different methods to lower the risk of these life threatening conditions and the Navajo Nation should be just the beginning.

    Winifred Tsosie, a biology junior who is half San Carlos Apache and half Navajo, is enrolled with the San Carlos Apache tribe. She said she supports the education this proposal could create for the small communities throughout the reservation.

    “I like the idea of trying to curb junk food eating. We need to change the way we eat. We don’t eat how we used to. All we are eating is sugar,” Tsosie said. “If [the Navajo Nation Council] can get the health education out there … that’s the only way we are going to get anywhere. Otherwise [these habits] will continue.”

    It is important to provide these communities with as much care and guidance as possible. A 2 percent tax is not too much to ask for the numerous projects that can be accomplished with the money collected.

    Shelby Thomas is a sophomore studying journalism and sociology. Follow her @shelbyalayne.

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