Using the Medicine Wheel to Control Type 2 Diabetes

The way information is presented to us makes a big difference in whether we are able to integrate that information into our daily lives. Although graphs and numbers may sway some people, putting educational materials into a culturally relevant context can be more effective. A recent study, for example, has found that a dietary program based on the Medicine Wheel Model for Nutrition can change eating patterns among Native Americans, who have the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease of all ethnic groups. 

The study, which was led by Kendra K. Kattelmann, PhD, RD, of South Dakota State University, randomly assigned participants from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation to an education group and a usual care control group.  The education group received six nutrition lessons based on the Medicine Wheel Model for Nutrition, which was modeled after Northern Plains Indian traditional consumption patterns:

  • Protein – 25% of energy
  • Carbohydrates – 45% to 50% of energy
  • Fat – 25% to 30% of energy

After six months, significant weight loss was observed in the education group, as well as a decrease in body mass index (BMI).  The control group, who received the usual educational materials from their healthcare providers, had no significant change in weight or BMI.

In the September 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Dr. Kattlemann noted that “A diet patterned after the historical hunter-gatherer type diet, or even the early reservation diet (with the higher proportion of energy being supplied from protein), may provide better blood glucose control and lower the circulating insulin levels in Northern Plains Indians with type 2 diabetes. Tribal leaders are interested in preserving the history of their food patterns and embrace the development of educational tools depicting their historical consumption patterns.”


Press release from the American Dietetic Association

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