Diabetes Wellness Program

For thousands of years, Native hunters and farmers sustained their people with nature's bounty — a balanced life of health and harmony in which diabetes was rare.  But today, modern lifestyles and fast-food diets are causing a devastating epidemic of type 2 diabetes.

Seva's Diabetes Wellness Program provides a unique solution — one that creates a synergy between modern medicine and traditional forms of healing.

The Need: Stopping a Deadly Epidemic
Native American communities are being hard hit by an epidemic of type 2 diabetes.  One in seven Native Americans has diabetes, and diabetes mortality rates are four times higher in Native communities than in the general U.S. population.  Compared with the general population, diabetes related amputations occur three to four times more frequently among Native Americans. 

Native Americans remain a medically underserved population.  In particular, the epidemic of type 2 diabetes among Native people is a crisis that the conventional

medical community has been unable to address, as health care interventions have failed to produce needed results in Native communities.  The crisis must be addressed not just through medical treatment of the complications of the disease, but also through effective, culturally appropriate prevention strategies.

A Unique Solution: Diabetes Talking Circles
The core of the program is the nationally recognized Diabetes Talking Circle, a highly effective training that helps Native people develop self-managed strategies for diabetes prevention and treatment.  The program is designed to honor Native spiritual beliefs and uses traditional ceremonies such as Talking Circles as the basis for a relevant educational experience.

With Seva's support, the program was launched in 1996 by Lorelei DeCora, a registered nurse and a Native American from the Winnebago tribe, who now directs Seva's Diabetes Wellness Program.  Program partners include the Center for American Indian Research & Education and the Centers for Disease Control.

The program has become a nationally accepted for its effectiveness, and the US Indian Health Service Agency (IHS) has proven the Diabetes Talking Circles to be a successful model for diabetes prevention.  In 2006, the IHS adopted the talking Circles model as a "Best Practice," helping to bring this important work to tribes throughout the United States.

The primary focus of our work is to create service sustainability by developing a network of Diabetes Talking Circle facilitators who can conduct the program in their own communities.  Using our specially designed curriculum tools, over 700 Talking Circle facilitators have been trained at tribal sites across the country, reaching more than 100 tribal sites to date.

A Holistic Approach
Seva's Diabetes Wellness Program, of which the Talking Circles are a part, also supports community garden projects which are helping to reintroduce nutritious, traditional Native foods.  When people can grow their own food, they share many benefits, including improved nutrition, increased physical activity, and a sense of joy and pride for their rich heritage and culture.  This is a deep process of community renewal that connects every person to the spirit of well-being and self-reliance.

Diabetes Talking Circles
Download a pdf tracing the story of this achievement from vision to best practice 




Research Results

A four-year study demonstrated the strength and success of the Diabetes Talking Circles as a culturally appropriate diabetes intervention for Native Americans
IHS Best Practice
The U.S. Indian Health Services Agency has adopted Seva's Diabetes Talking Circles model as a "Best Practice" — helping to bring this important work to tribes across the nation

Celebrating Seva's Diabetes Talking Circles
Download a pdf tracing the story of this achievement from vision to best practice 


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