Native American embodiment of the chronicities of modernity: reservation food, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome among the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache

Med Anthropol Q. 2012 Dec;26(4):595-612. doi: 10.1111/maq.12009.


As a physical embodiment of modernity, the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome (MetS) among Native Americans reflects their body's biological response to social and cultural structures that routinize daily behaviors and contain their physical body. This article explains why Native Americans were one of the earliest populations manifesting this epidemic. Ethnohistorical methods identify the conjuncture of chronic behaviors among Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache of Oklahoma that promote inactivity, overnutrition, and psychosocial stresses. Correspondence and primary documents of Federal Indian Agents who managed the reservation food rations and annuity systems beginning in the 1860s, details a culture history of nutrition and food technologies that standardized and established the unhealthy modern diet that continues among Native Americans today. By identifying structural chronicities affecting specific populations and life situations, policies and interventions can be more effective in promoting positive changes for reducing the global pandemic of diabetes and MetS.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Medical
  • Diabetes Mellitus / ethnology*
  • Diet / ethnology*
  • Diet / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / history*
  • Metabolic Syndrome / ethnology*
  • Residence Characteristics / history
  • United States