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Health concerns among Native Americans are getting new attention at Rehoboth (N.M.) Christian School. Teachers at the school hope emphasizing fitness will help prevent diabetes.

Rehoboth has fielded sports teams for years, but Assistant Athletic Director Jeff Engbers said the school is now reworking physical education classes to emphasize fitness habits that can last a lifetime.

“We’re trying to develop those attitudes at a young age,” said Engbers. “It’s been real exciting.”

Native Americans have made up the majority of the school’s student body ever since Christian Reformed missionaries founded it in 1903. Today Native Americans are three times more likely than the average American to eventually die of diabetes, according to the U.S. government’s Indian Health Service. Exercise and healthy eating fend off the disease.

A new sports and fitness center on campus has made the new fitness effort possible. The facility includes more than 60 donated cardio and weight machines.

The center is also attracting parents and visitors from the community. School employees sign up for exercise shifts, allowing the center to have supervision and stay open after school hours.

Rehoboth senior Kyle Miller, a Navajo, said his family has always paid attention to healthy eating and sports. Now he’s also taking a fitness class and exercising after school.

“In other places there’s no place to go and work out and have a Christian environment,” said Miller. “Here you have coaches and teachers who’ll help you.”

Engbers said the school hopes to make the facility even more available to students’ families and others. “It’s neat seeing people at least do something to live out a physically active lifestyle,” he said.

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