Table full of healthy food and happy people.

MN Impact: Researchers Help Develop the Family Education Diabetes Series

September 4, 2019


Collaborative research and community engagement will led to positive health outcomes for American Indian communities


Diabetes is one of the most widespread chronic diseases in the United States. In affects over 7 percent of the population and disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities. American Indians (AI) are the hardest hit, with prevalence rates exceeding 50 percent in some tribes.    

What has been done

Efforts to-date to respond to this epidemic in AI communities have been largely unsuccessful, as most research and care is conventionally positioned in reservation contexts and designed/administered through top-down, professionally led frames that do not reach AIs who live in urban areas.

Tai Mendenhall and his team collaborated with healthcare providers in St. Paul to partner with AI community elders in the Twin Cities. Over several years, they designed and launched a University/Community partnership called the Family Education Diabetes Series (FEDS). FEDS purposively combines Western knowledge regarding disease processes and management with Native worldviews of the Medicine Wheel and "Walking in Balance."


Mendenhall and his team conducted talking circles with AI participants, wherein foci addressed included the roles of biomedical and behavioral research in health, the importance of collaborative public engagement, and the establishment of community trust. Ultimately, AI elders involved in the FEDS project maintained that researchers should not compare findings discovered with the intervention group to any kind of control/waitlist group (so as to facilitate more broad and inclusive participation in the FEDS). 

Quantitative findings, assessed through a series of single-group repeated measures assays, show consistent improvements and/or maintenance of improvements-achieved in AI participants across physiological outcomes (random blood sugar, blood pressure and body-mass-index) and disease management measures (self-care and knowledge about diabetes). Qualitative findings also noted other behavior changes, including gaining or maintaining sobriety in adults, and youth becoming "health messengers" for their peers and the broader community.