Actor Martin Sensmeier testifies in Washington on healthy living for Native Alaskans

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - While health care is currently a hot topic on Capitol Hill, some lawmakers are taking a look at Native American communities. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing Wednesday, looking at how native youth can live healthier lives.

Alaska Native Martin Sensmeier says the Boys and Girls Club of America set him on a healthy, active trajectory at a young age.

The topic of the hearing was preventing diabetes in Native Americans through healthier living. Alaska Native, actor Martin Sensmeier was on the panel of witnesses.

“It’s a responsibility to promote healthy lifestyles, and active lifestyles in our communities to prevent diabetes,” said Sensmeier.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says American Indian and Alaska Natives are two-times as likely to have diagnosed type two diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. Sensmeier says organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of America help by teaching Native children to eat healthy and stay active from a young age.

“I was always taught that physical fitness and applying myself and learning a nutritional education, all of those things that were provided through the clubs would help me get to the level I’m at today,” said Sensmeier.

Lawmakers in Washington continue to attack the problem. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) says as budget talks heat up on Capitol Hill, reauthorizing the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) is a priority for her communities.

“I’m going to make sure people understand why this is significant, why it’s made a difference,” said Murkowski.

She says the federally funded program lowers health care costs while improving the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives. Murkowski says a lot of progress has been made in Native American communities, but she says we need to press on.

“It is something that needs to be ongoing in terms of that education that awareness and really making that difference,” said Murkowski.

Murkowski says with an overall effort to cut the federal budget there could be some pushback against reauthorization. She says she’ll work to make sure it does, indeed, get funded.