FY14 Funded Projects

Project Title: Disrupted Link: Obesity and Diabetes in Alaska Native (Yup’ik) People
Leader: Andrej Podlutsky, Ph.D.
Two-year project funded through June 30, 2015
Summary: This project tests the hypothesis that traditional foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)
protect Yup’ik people from type 2 diabetes (T2D) by reducing levels of chronic inflammation and oxidative
stress. Overweight and obesity are strongly linked to the state of chronic inflammation observed in liver and fat
tissues, this in turn leads to glucose intolerance and development of type 2 diabetes. Spread of overweight and
obesity in the world is responsible for the growing number of T2D in every country; the level of T2D in U.S. is
11.4% for adults above 20 years of age. According to the Center for Alaska Native Health Research (CANHR)
data, Yup’ik people are similar to the general US population in the overweight/obesity status – 67% have a BMI
>25. However, the number of diagnosed T2D cases is much lower – below 3%. The difference of more than 3
times is attributed to the traditional diet of Yup’ik people, which is rich in PUFAs – intake of eicosapetnaenoic
(EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acid are >20 times the current mean intake of the general U.S. population.
PUFAs have long been suspected to exert significant health benefits on a number of human diseases and
conditions, including T2D, cardiovascular disease, and even cancers. The exact molecular mechanism(s)
behind PUFA action is unknown, and studies are complicated due to the required long exposure to PUFAs in
experimental models, which are quite difficult to achieve. Yup’ik people are a unique group in this regard
because their traditional diet is very rich in EPA and DHA. Our hypothesis is that traditional foods rich in
omega-3 fatty acids are reducing Yup’ik peoples’ susceptibility to type 2 diabetes. We will test this hypothesis
by measuring levels of inflammatory and oxidative responses (Aim 1), as well as level of resistin and
associated adhesion capacity (Aim 2) of endothelial and pre-adipose cells treated with blood plasma collected
from Yup’ik donors with a wide variety of BMIs. Due to the “westernization” of the Yup’ik lifestyle and diet, it is
expected that the number of T2D cases will increase in the future. Our findings might help to formulate a
strategy that could prevent such an increase.
Project Title: Cultural Adaptation of an Intervention to Reduce Body Weight in Yup'ik Women
Leader: Scarlett Hopkins, M.A.
Two-year project funded through June 30, 2015
Summary: The overall goal of the proposed project is to culturally adapt an evidence-based intervention
designed to decrease body weight and improve the health of Yup’ik women by promoting healthy eating and
increased physical activity to improve the health of Yup’ik women. The proposed research will conduct
formative work in two communities to determine the feasibility of the “home health party” model for risk
reduction intervention led by trained “lay health workers” in the community. We will use the Cultural Adaptation
Framework (CAF) to guide the process of adapting, piloting and refining an intervention originally designed for
Hispanic communities to one that is culturally appropriate for Yup’ik communities. We will also utilize a socialecological approach to assess environmental factors that may influence obesity-related disease risk. This study
builds on CANHR's central research theme focused on the genetic, behavioral, and nutritional risk and
protective factors for obesity and related metabolic disorders, and is responsive to the health needs and
research priorities identified by community partners. A Community Planning Group of Yup’ik women will serve
as co-researchers in the cultural adaptation and pilot testing of an intervention shown to promote healthy diets
and increased physical activity in Hispanic and African American communities. The Specific Aims are to:
Aim 1. Culturally adapt a community-based intervention to promote healthy diet and increase physical activity
among Yup’ik women;
Aim 2. Test the feasibility of the adapted intervention in one rural community; and
Aim 3. A secondary aim is to explore environmental factors that may be related to healthy food choices and
physical activity.
CANHR’s long community-based participatory research (CBPR) partnership with members of these
communities, have well positioned us to successfully work with community members in these communities to
culturally adapt an evidence-based intervention that may improve the health of Yup’ik women.