Choctaw Nation endowed researcher battles diabetes by putting kids on the move

Winter 2020

Previous Story Next Story
Choctaw Nation children compete at an Oklahoma City Thunder Youth Basketball Camp. Physical activity among youth is promoted by the Choctaw Nation, which is collaborating with OU on the MOVE project.

Choctaw Nation children compete at an Oklahoma City Thunder Youth Basketball Camp. Physical activity among youth is promoted by the Choctaw Nation, which is collaborating with OU on the MOVE project.

Exercise is preventative medicine that has the power to fend off conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But how do you get the patient to take the medicine?

That’s the challenge Kevin Short is seeking to overcome through a collaboration with the Choctaw Nation. Work began in 2012 on a project called MOVE.

“We wanted teens who were overweight and sedentary to become more active to stave off diabetes,” said Short, the CMRI Choctaw Nation Endowed Chair in Pediatric Endocrinology for the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

Obesity and inactivity are major contributors to the increasing number of children and adolescents who are developing type 2 diabetes, once known as “adult diabetes,” said Short, whose endowed chair was established through a gift from the Choctaw Nation to the OU Foundation. “One-third of all new diabetes cases in our clinic are type 2.”

Studies show 30 percent of U.S. children are overweight or obese and fewer than half meet the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendation of 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily for youth ages 6 to 17.

The risk for type 2 diabetes is even greater for Native American youth, who have much higher rates of being overweight or obese than national averages. They also have the highest incidence of type 2 diabetes compared to other U.S. racial and ethnic groups, Short said.

“My go-to answer for most people is, ‘Just get a comfortable pair of shoes and get moving if you are able,’ ” said the avid runner with degrees in exercise physiology and human bioenergetics. “The challenge is getting people to do it.”

The MOVE study began at the same time the Choctaw Nation was building wellness centers through southeast Oklahoma. The study targeted overweight and sedentary youth at risk of developing diabetes. They were instructed to exercise three times weekly at a tribal wellness center and were offered financial incentives to help them develop an exercise routine that would continue.

“However, we found that we could get them to be more active, but we couldn’t sustain it,” Short said. A new study will take the next step by removing barriers like lack of transportation or motivation to go to the wellness center.

“Now we’re looking for solutions to get people to be active wherever they are,” he said.
Short is working with Darla Kendzor, co-director of the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center at OU’s Stephenson Cancer Center, who has expertise using smartphone-based interventions to help people reduce smoking. The two were awarded a grant from OU’s Harold Hamm Diabetes Center to develop and test a smartphone app to reduce sedentary behavior.

The youth will be given smart watches that track their movements and send prompts when they’ve been sitting for 30 minutes. The study will track 30 Choctaw youth for a month, followed by a longer trial with 60 to 75 participants.

“Participation in the study is making a difference in their self-esteem,” said Tamela Cannady, director of preventative health for the Choctaw Nation. “They are holding their heads higher. We have a job at Choctaw Nation to make people’s lives healthier.”
“You don’t have to be a super athlete to be healthy,” Short added. “There’s value in just being active throughout the day.”