Health officials send bikes to Alaska to fight diabetes

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) 7-07

Health officials concerned with high rates
of diabetes in the Bristol Bay region are sending bicycles to area
children in hopes of reducing their risk.

The Bristol Bay Area Health Corp. plans to ship 735 Trek bikes to
Dillingham and 34 villages, said Lois Schumacher, the diabetes
program coordinator.

The $150,000 program is financed by a federal grant for fighting
diabetes among American Indians and Alaska Natives.

In a region with 8,000 residents, there will be about one bike for
every 11 people. Some already have arrived in Goodnews Bay, west of
Dillingham. Children in other communities should get bikes sometime
during July.

Kids need to get outside and shed weight to reduce their risk of
getting diabetes as adults, Schumacher said. Too many watch TV or
hitch rides on four-wheelers to get around. About half the kids in
the region are overweight, she said.

"We want to get them moving," she said.

A nationwide increase in diabetes has been especially high among
Alaska Natives, up 120 percent between 1990 and 2004. In the mostly
Yup'ik Bristol Bay region, it's up 170 percent, the Alaska Native
Medical Center reports.

Mary Clark, 51, grew up in Bristol Bay and works at the hospital in
Dillingham. She will lead children on weekend bike rides through
Dillingham, organize events with bike mechanics and hold hand-signal

Clark said waistlines are growing in the region because many people
have replaced subsistence foods such as berries and fish with junk

"This new generation is into chips, doughnuts, cookies, candy and a
lot of pop," she said.

Children will turn to bikes for transportation, she said, when family
four-wheelers are employed for subsistence chores such as hauling
fish to smokehouses.

"This is a godsend and (parents) are very pleased, so I'm sure we'll
have a lot of kids riding."

Anyone in 12th grade or younger who does not have a working bike is
eligible, Schumacher said. Teens will get 21-speed bikes with shocks.
Younger kids will get single-speed bikes.

The children will have to sign a contract saying they'll take care of
their bikes, wear helmets and ride safely. Parents and tribal
councils ultimately will be responsible for the bikes' use and care,
Schumacher said.

"We're trying to encourage lifestyle change," Schumacher said.

Last year, she supplied each Bristol Bay community with at least two
Dance Dance Revolution pads, the blinking pads with TV monitors
directing kids where to step. That program cost more than $85,000,
also using federal money.

In Togiak, kids use the dance pads, but not in summer when the school
is closed, said Helen Gregorio, a health representative in the
village of about 800. Kids will use the bikes, she predicted.

Schumacher got the idea for the bike program after visiting Goodnews
Bay, 242 miles west of Dillingham. The village council had purchased
bike helmets but many children did not have bikes.

Children who received one of 18 bikes delivered are excited, said
Peter Julius, tribal administrator.

"I see them around, showing off their new bikes," he said.