USDA ERS Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics

The Native Peoples Technical Assistance Office (NPTAO) in collaboration with the American Indian Studies Program (AISP) at the University of Arizona was one of five academic/research centers engaged in partnership with the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) to stimulate new and innovative research on food assistance and nutrition issues and to broaden the participation of social scientists in these topics. From 1998 through 2009, NPTAO and AIS have worked with scholars at tribal colleges and other institutions through ERS' RIDGE Program (Research Innovation and Development Grants in Economics) to support analyses of the unique issues and challenges faced by Native Americans with respect to loss of traditional life-ways, food assistance and commodity programs, and nutrition-related health issues.

The NPTAO/AISP program focused on the following broad research categories: Food Stamp Programs as a Safety Net; Better Service to the Working Poor; WIC Program Research; Child Nutrition Issues; and Outcome-Based Performance Measures. NPTAO/AISP regard the RIDGE Program as a unique opportunity to foster tribal college faculty development, institutional capacity building, tribal college student participation in the research process, and partnerships between 1862 and 1994 land grant institutions and other collaborations.

The collection of reports featured below, developed through the NPTAO/AISP RIDGE program, is a valuable body of Native-related research now available to tribal leaders, scholars and policy makers that was not accessible prior to the development of our research partnerships with tribal communities. Most recent projects are listed first.

Little Priest Tribal College, Winnebago, Nebraska:  “Wa-dooch Pinx-gi (Ho Chunk translation for “Really Good Eating”) 2007-2008

According to Nebraska Health and Human Services, American Indians in Nebraska are more likely to die from diabetes-related causes than all other racial and ethnic groups.  Emulating the 2002-2003 USDA Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program model, the Wa-dooch Pinx-gi (Really Good Eating) Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Intervention Project was designed to study and address the awareness and behavior associated with an unhealthy diet and to seek strategies and solutions to positively change Little Priest Tribal College (LPTC) students’ unhealthy eating behavior.  This was accomplished through the implementation of a two-semester multi-faceted food distribution program, complemented by a series of nutrition education programs offered during the spring 2008 semester.  As a result, the program assisted students who are current and former recipients of food assistance to make the transition to healthy eating for themselves and their families, independent of government assistance programs through education, participant feedback, and introduction of healthy fruits and vegetables into their daily diets. Principal Investigators: Crystal Snowball and Brigid Quinn-Laquer. LPTC Final Report

Johns Hopkins University:  “Understanding the Impact of Food Assistance Programs Usage on Diet among American Indians” 2007-2009

Despite of the heavy use of Food Assistance Programs (FAP) in American Indian populations, relatively little research has been conducted to understand FAP usage patterns among American Indians and the impact of usage on dietary quality. The purpose of this project is to address the following research questions: 1) What are the patterns of FAP usage in terms of food acquisition and consumption among AI participants, 2) how do they relate to food acquisition patterns and actual dietary quality, and 3) how can these patterns be improved?

The study was carried out on two American Indian reservations, the San Carlos Apache reservation and White Mountain Apache reservation, Arizona, as a part of an ongoing community-based environmental nutrition intervention program to improve diet and reduce risk for obesity and other chronic disease.  The planned baseline evaluation data collection was expanded by increasing the total sample size to 150 respondents and (1) additional data was collected to understand the FAP usage patterns of program participants, (2) the relationship was examined between the FAP usage patterns and dietary quality among participants, and (3) effective and culturally appropriate nutrition intervention components were developed that address FAP use to improve these patterns.  The findings from the research provided insights about how to improve patterns of Food Assistance Programs use in American Indian populations. Principal Investigators: Joel Gittelsohn and Muqe Qu. John Hopkins Two Year Report

Sipaulovi Development Corporation, Second Mesa, Arizona: Healthy Foods in a Rural Convenience Store Setting” 2007-2008

Sipaulovi Development Corporation (SDC) researched the potential to develop a replicable model demonstrating that convenience stores with fast food components can profitably source, offer and promote a range of healthy choices to consumers.  This project targeted health and nutrition issues faced by the working poor with limited access to healthy foods and limited food dollars to spend.  This project investigated the best avenues for incorporating locally-sourced ingredients into traditional-type foods that can be offered in a “fast-food” setting and sourcing for other healthy yet convenient Native food product and snacks.  Convenience foods and fast foods currently available within the Hopi Nation are contributing to rising obesity and diabetes. Findings from NPTAO research projects from the past several years support the premise of this project.  Regionally, there are diverse resources and partnerships available to the project from agencies, organizations, universities, and businesses committed to eating locally and sustainably. 

During the first phase of this 18-month project, SDC conducted a strategic plan to determine the best way to provide healthy foods in the convenience store and deli, while being price competitive and appealing to local audiences.  The second phase of the challenge was to identify sources that are as local as possible, working outward in concentric circles with Sipaulovi at the center.  The third phase, which took parallel with the other two, was to develop an educational campaign that engages Hopi people in a dialog with each other about nutrition, cooking, food selection, and healthy eating. Principal Investigators: Susan Secakuku, Suzanne Jamison, Isaura Andaluz. SDC Final Report

University of Montana: Measuring food purchases, community needs and tribal policy for healthy foods in local grocery stores on and near a Northern Plains Indian reservation 2007-2009

This project assessed community needs and perceptions of food resources and the food environment in three small grocery stores on or near a Northern Plains Indian reservation in the United States. The project also assessed tribal member ideas for culturally specific and community based strategies for increasing purchases and use of healthier foods in the local grocery stores. Qualitative interviews were conducted with tribal government and health officials to determine the likelihood of adopting a local tribal policy that increases the availability of healthy foods in the local grocery stores and supports consumer demand for these food items. The Year 1 data is helping develop and implement strategies for increasing healthy foods and sales of healthy foods in a small grocery store on the reservation in Year 2. All project outcomes were disseminated to the Tribal Health Board and Council in December 2007. These data can be used in grants the tribes submit that fund strategies that improve local food environments on the reservation. The project can also inform other reservation communities how to assess, and ultimately improve, their local food environments.  

In Year 2, this project implemented the community-based strategies identified in the Year 1 RIDGE grant. These strategies were implemented in a local grocery store on a Northern Plains Indian reservation for the purpose of increasing tribal member awareness and purchase of healthy foods that are now available in the store.  University of Montana IRB approval was obtained for the study to survey and interview adolescents and adults living on or near the reservation who shop at the local grocery store, and measure the acceptance and purchase of healthy foods that are now available in the store. Principal Investigator: Dr. Blakely Brown. 2007 Report | Two Year Executive Summary

Northwest Indian College Cooperative Extension Office:   The Traditional Foods of Puget Sound Project 2008-2009

In 2005, the Northwest Indian College (NWIC) Cooperative Extension Office initiated an extraordinarily popular and successful Diabetes Prevention through Traditional Plants program.  This is a long-term, multi-step, culturally relevant, holistic diabetes prevention program for Native Americans in the Western Washington portion of the College’s service area.  Through a series of workshops and intensive mentoring relationships, the program emphasizes lifestyle changes based on the cultivation / harvest of traditional plants and the return to more traditional healthy diets and lifestyles.  Concurrently, under the direction of Dr. Peter Lape, Curator of Archaeology at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum, The Puget Sound Traditional Food and Diabetes Project used archaeological and historic data to develop a long-term picture of the traditional Native American diet in the Puget Sound region.  The data are a source of information about the potentially therapeutic value of traditional foods.  The Northwest Indian College Cooperative Extension Office will use the findings of each program in addressing this question: How do we utilize research about traditional foods of Puget Sound Indians to create a healthier diet and lifestyle for Indian people today? Principal Investigator:  Elise Krohn; Research Assistant: Valerie Segrest. NWIC Final Report

Oklahoma State University and the Chickasaw Nation:  Utilizing an Ecological Perspective as a Framework for Understanding Native American Elders’ Views of Diabetes for the Development of an Indigenous Action Plan

Formative research with the Chickasaw Nation Get Fresh! food stamp nutrition education program administered by the Chickasaw Nation Nutrition Services indicates that elders are important agents of change within the family when it comes to diet-related health behaviors.  The purpose of the proposed research is to utilize an ecological perspective to identify personal, interpersonal and environmental factors which impact the role of elders in influencing intergenerational health decisions.  Participatory methods including individual interviews and group interviews will be used to identify how elders can influence change at multiple levels using indigenous views.  The results of this research when applied are expected to inform the development nutrition programs aimed at preventing diabetes among Native American families.  The long term goal of this research is to decrease the incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity by attending to the importance of culture when designing successful educational delivery models for Native American families. Principal Investigators:  Stephany Parker, Sarah Miracle, and Janice Hermann. OSU Final Report

Salish Kootenai College:  Ancestor’s Choice Environmental Strategy for prevention of Childhood Obesity in Native Populations

American Indians and Alaska Natives suffer the highest rates of health disparities, such as obesity, where lifestyle is a key risk factor. Behavior change interventions attempted to date with AIANs have incorporated Native cultural components in hopes of somehow making it culturally relevant, as opposed to starting with Native culture and Indigenous wisdom as the community strength and foundation upon which to stimulate the motivation for and design of an intervention. This project developed from groundwork prepared in the Community Health and Development Department for a social marketing campaign entitled Ancestors’ Choice™ (AC), which promotes the choice for healthy foods and lifestyles based in the wisdom of traditional Native values and culture. Ancestors’ Choice is a strategy to assist Native people living in the ‘real world’ to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices that in essential ways honor and emulate the practices in contemporary times, which produced the health benefits of the peoples who lived during ancestral times. There is considerable evidence indicating that an approach, which encourages Native peoples in the direction of Ancestors’ Choice may result in improved health outcomes.

The hypothesis for this study was: when messages attempting to motivate healthy eating habits in Native children, youth and teens are culturally congruent, when products have packaging and taste appeal, and when they are made readily available in the environments where children congregate, they will purchase/choose and consume healthier foods, snacks and drinks.

The three aims of the study were 1) To tailor the campaign to address children, youth and teens of the Flathead Indian Reservation 2) To evaluate its impact on brand name recognition and sales/consumption of Ancestors’ Choice labeled items with children, youth and adults, and 3)To further develop a RezChef™ cooking class to include cooking shows with children, youth and teens to be aired on public television and made available complete with healthy eating curriculum to include teacher’s guide and DVD for Northern plains and plateau tribes. Principal Investigator:  Anita DuPui. Salish Kotenai Final Report

Iowa State University: A National-Level Study of Food Stamp Program Participation Among Native Americans: 1995-2002

In this project, the investigators sought answers to four broad questions regarding participation in food stamps and the FDPIR among American Indians: (1) what are the participation rates among American Indians in the Food Stamp Program and how do these compare to the general population; (2) To what extent do American Indians participate in Food Distribution Programs on Indian Reservations; (3) After controlling for other factors, do American Indians have higher rates of food stamp participation than the rest of the population; and (4) How do food stamp participation rates among American Indians living on reservations compare with those living off-reservation? Principal Investigators: Craig Gundersen and Karen Rimsa. 2006 Final Report

University of Arizona: Implementation of a Small-scale backyard integrated aquabioponics food production system and training program for Native Hawaiian Working Families in Hawai'i

Aecio D'SilvaInitially, the Principal Investigators collaborated with the Paia Learning Center (PLC) to design and construct a small-scale integrated AquaBioPonics system which produced fish, vegetables, biofuels and organic fertilizer. This system also has the capacity of producing methane gas as an additional by-product. A series of workshops were conducted at PLC to train interested families and individuals in how to construct the system and produce food items. This integrated system known as Systems AquaBioPonics of Recirculation - SAAR - was developed by Professor Aecio D`Silva in his backyard and has been utilized many parts of the world. The integrated SAAR system recycles water, nutrients and wastes, and yields fish (tilapia), a vegetable crop, and organic fertilizer. The water used for growing vegetables is also used for growing tilapia; the wastes produced by tilapia provides nutrients to the hydroponic crop. Such a system represents a highly promising water-efficient and sustainable food production strategy for both small-scale backyard systems and larger commercial systems that maximize reuse of water, nutrients and wastes. The integrated system promises several-fold greater productivity per unit resource than other non-integrated systems. Thus, a grower receives more edible or saleable plant and animal products for every dollar spent and for every unit of resource used, providing competitive advantage to those adopting such a system and reducing environmental impact by virtue of its vastly lessened resource usage and non-polluting nature. Two project sites on Maui were developed with Maui Community College and Lahaina High School. Principal Investigator Aecio D'Silva. 2007 Report | 2006 Report

Tucson Community Food Bank: Mobile Markets' Participation and Impact: An Analysis of Pascua Yaqui Pueblo and the Old Nogales Highway Colonia

Compared to higher-income households, low-income households often face higher food prices and less availability of more varied and nutritious foods. In part, this is because they live farther away from suburbs where food prices are typically lower and larger scales of operation provide greater food variety. The Community Food Bank's Mobile Markets bring a variety of food items to low income areas in more remote parts of Pima County, Arizona . This study measured the extent to which residents of the Pascua Yaqui People and the Old Nogales Highway Colonia pay higher prices for food items than other Pima County residents. It also measured how participation in mobile markets has affected household access to and consumption of more nutritious foods. Data was collected from market sales logs, mobile market customer phone, face-to-face with Pascua Yaqui elders, surveys and food store market price surveys to quantify how mobile markets have affected the cost and availability of different food items. Principal Investigator George B. Frisvold and Anita C. Fonte.  2007 Report | 2006 Report

Blackfeet Community College: Native Nutrition and Foods Initiative Research

This project initiated a food system study of early Indian food systems and present food system nutritional based research that complemented the Blackfeet Indian Community. Specifically, the project examined the nutrition base of traditional foods and its impact on health and wellness before introduction of the non-Indian food diet; studied the present day food system, food pyramid and nutrition and the impact of health and wellness of the Blackfeet Community; gathered information, historical data, documents, and statistics; developed a traditional food system pyramid; and developed a research impact statement on all findings and dissemination throughout the community, including WIC programs, food stamp programs, and other programs dealing with feeding the community. Principal Investigator: Wilber Fish. 2006 Report

University of Arizona: Understanding Traditional Foods Security of Hopi Single Parent Female Headed Households

The purpose of this research was to determine the situation of families headed by single females in their ability to access Hopi traditional foods. These foods are important both in nutritional well being and cultural participation. Participatory Rural Assessment (PRA) training was provided to community representatives hired to conduct the survey. The training helped community representatives better understand how to approach a community assessment from an asset-based perspective. It provided them a deeper understanding of how and why the survey instrument is developed. Two Community Representatives were trained in PRA to conduct community interviews, including Ms. Iva Honeystewa and Ms. Harissa Koiyaquaptewa. They also participated in database development and entering information into the database. Principal Investigators: Matt Livingston and Cornelia Flora. 2007 Report | 2006 Report

Tohono O'odham Community College: Improving Community Nutrition Through Traditional Tohono O'odham Foods: A Community-Based Health Intervention Study

Decreased consumption of traditional foods has affected the health of the Tohono O'odham community. This study builds on previous research on the impact of these dietary changes by documenting the impact of increased consumption of traditional foods on the health of the Tohono O'odham. Principal Investigators: Tristan S. Reader and Paul Buseck. 2006 Final Report

White Earth Tribal and Community College: The Mahnomen Project

The Mahnomen Project (Mahnomen is the Ojibwa word for wild rice) proposed an ethnographic study on the significance of wild rice on the White Earth Reservation. Documenting the traditional Aniishinaabe perceptions will aid upcoming decisions and protection practices and policies facing the White Earth Tribal Council. The project will also provide cultural enrichment for tribal college students involved in the research project as well as enlighten state and federal legislators to the cultural significance wild rice has for the Aniishinaabe. (Funded 2002). Principal Investigator: Annabelle Rowland. Report unavailable.

University of New Mexico: The Nutritional Impact of the WIC Program on Navajo Women and Their Children

The study objective was to identify how the nutritional status of Navajo women and children participating in the WIC program can be improved. This ethnographic study targeting Navajo WIC participants in Cuba, New Mexico, examined the impact of WIC on the nutritional status of pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, infants, and children from birth to 5 years of age. Navajo clients from the eastern checkerboard area attend this off-reservation WIC clinic. WIC personnel, community members, selected WIC participants, a Native American student, and the principal investigator collaborated to identify topics of interest related to the nutritional status of Navajo women and children. In-depth interviews with WIC personnel and program participants documented the benefits of WIC and the challenges involved in improving the nutritional status of Navajo women and children. A Native American student was trained in qualitative research methodology, and conducted field interviews, wrote field notes, entered and coded data into a qualitative database, and assisted in interpreting, analyzing, and writing up study results. Principal Investigator: Joanne McCloskey. 2006 Report

Fort Peck Community College: Children and Nutrition: The Growing Health Epidemic of Diabetes in Indian Country

Fort Peck Community College examined the prevalence of diabetes among the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. Fort Peck Community College, chartered by the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, is an accredited tribal college that has taken an active approach in dealing with health promotion and holistic wellness of reservation residents. The College, in partnership with the Fort Peck Tribal Health Diabetes Program and Indian Health Service, has reviewed the general status of the reservation's youth and have committed to providing long-standing solutions to reverse unhealthy nutritional status of tribal members, which has resulted in a serious diabetic trend. Principal Investigator: Ben Johnson, Sr. 2004 Report 

Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College: Nutrition Assessment and Education for Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa

Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College established an outcome-based performance measures project, with overall goals aimed at the assessment of food consumed and served on the L'anse Indian Reservation and encouraging Native American students into higher education, specifically into the nutrition fields. The intention of this project was to blend the traditional nutrition practices of the Ojibwa people within nutrition education and contemporary challenges. The importance of traditional teachings and how they contribute to the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of the Ojibwa people was integrated. (Funded 2002). Principal Investigator: Debra Parish. 2003 Report | 2004 Report 

Tohono O'odham Community College: The Impact of Food Assistance Programs on the Tohono O'odham Food System: An Analysis and Recommendations

Tohono O'odham Community College and Tohono O'odham Community Action developed a research program designed to use qualitative and quantitative outcome-based performance measures to analyze the effects of food assistance programs on the Tohono O'odham food system, as well as to make recommendations on ways in which such programs could be changed in order to encourage the redevelopment of a sustainable and healthy community food system within the Tohono O'odham Nation. (Funded 2000 through 2002). Principal Investigator: Daniel Lopez. 2001 Report | 2002 Report | 2003 Report 

Chief Dull Knife Memorial College: The Impact of Food Assistance Programs on American Indian Reservations: The Northern Cheyenne Case Study

A research collaboration between Chief Dull Knife Memorial College and Brigham Young University has documented the impact of recent food assistance changes on nutritional and socio-economic well being in the context of Northern Cheyenne cultural and political life, and identified ways in which tribal, community and other agencies might serve Cheyenne families struggling to adapt to new program requirements more effectively. (Funded 1998 through 2001). Principal Investigators: Judith Davis and Carol Ward. 2000 Report | 2001 Report | 2002 Report 

Diné Community College , Shiprock Campus: The Variety, Affordability, and Availability of Healthful Foods at Convenience Stores and Trading Posts on the Navajo Reservation

A basic assumption of health education programs is that foods being promoted will be available. On the Navajo reservation the nearest source for groceries may be a trading post or convenience store. With a partnership between the University of New Mexico and Diné College, staff and students developed and administered a food inventory at rural trading posts and convenience stores across three states. The research ultimately indicated that there is a limited number of healthful foods available and that store owners would make more available if there was a demand. (Funded 1998 through 2001). Principal Investigator: Mark Bauer. 2000 Report 

Aaniiih Nakoda College: Federal Food Programs, Traditional Foods and the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Nations of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation

Working jointly with faculty, students and tribal elders, this project both documented and demonstrated the preparation of traditional foods and described the history and impact of federal food programs on the traditional diets of the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine peoples. (Funded 1998). Principal Investigator: Rachel Grant. 2000 Report 

Little Priest Tribal College: The Impact of Food Assistance Programs on American Indian Reservations

The Winnebago community has participated in several Indian Health Services studies concerning diabetes and obesity. These studies documented the severe health problems of the Winnebago people but seldom suggested solutions. This project looked at two possible causes and solutions through a twofold process: the standardizing of reservation commodity nutrition values and the changing of commodity food preparation habits of women participating in both the WIC and Headstart programs. (Funded 1999). Principal Investigator: Leona Zastrow. 2000 Report 

Oglala Lakota College: Assessment of Food Concerns, Nutrition Knowledge and Food Security of Oglala Lakota College Students on the Pine Ridge Reservation

This study adapted a survey developed by the South Dakota State University Department of Nutrition and Food Science to assess food concerns, nutrition knowledge and food insecurity on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Researchers compared their results to survey data and food insecurity on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The results allowed nutrition, health and agriculture personnel to better design and target nutrition education programs on the Pine Ridge Reservation. (Funded 1998). Principal Investigator: Leslie Rae Henry. 2000 Report 

Si Tanka Community College/ Huron University: A Dietary History and Behavior Study on the Cheyenne River Reservation

The Cheyenne River Community College collaborated with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Indian Health Services to determine prevailing attitudes towards household nutritional choices, knowledge of diabetes and its prevention, and motivations for dietary change among the Cheyenne River Sioux. The authors conclude that nutrition and weight control programs that address these reported barriers and provide incentives for increased participation are needed. (Funded 1998). Principal Investigator: John Phillips. 2000 Report