Study: half of Nunavut’s children go hungry
Powdered sugar drinks replacing milk
YELLOWKNIFE — About half of Nunavut’s children aged three to five don’t get enough food to eat, according to information gathered during the 2007-08 Qanuippitali Inuit health survey.
This means that in Nunavut, young children experience hunger at a rate 10 times greater than children in the rest of Canada, according to the survey’s findings, which were discussed at this week’s International Congress of Circumpolar Health in Yellowknife.
In addition to its broad look at the health of Nunavummiut aged 18 and older, the Qanuippitali health survey examined 388 randomly chosen children from 16 Nunavut communities.
From information received during personal interviews, researchers found that more than one in two of these young children experience what is called “food insecurity,” which means they lack food to a greater or lesser extent.
“I really believe this data,” Qanuippitaa’s lead researcher Grace Egeland told a session at the circumpolar health conference. “I can’t believe they are exaggerating reports.”
Researchers also found that a severe lack of food was associated with more overcrowding in the home, social housing, social assistance and the presence of more children in the home.
While the number of children in a household made the food situation worse overall, the number of adults generally offered a cushion against hunger — unless those adults were visitors without homes of their own.
Children living in households lacking food reported eating fewer types of foods, and drank more high-sugar drinks more often than milk.
About three in four children from households not lacking in food said they had drunk milk in the past 24 hours, whereas less than one in two of the hungry children had.
“Powdered sugared drinks are replacing milk,” Egeland noted.
The longer-term effects of this poor and insufficient diet could result in tooth decay, obesity, behaviour problems and poor development, Egeland said.
The lack of food could be made even more acute by climate change, which may limit access to healthy country foods, she noted.
The solution is for the federal and provincial governments to find ways to alleviate food insecurity, she said.
That’s because you can’t expect families to find all the solutions, Egeland told Nunatsiaq News.
Small children often go hungry, despite the efforts of women and older children, who often eat less or skip meals to give more food to the youngest in the family, says other research also presented at the circumpolar health conference.
Another study from McGill University, which looked at women in Igloolik, shows many women there are also affected by a lack of food.
Researchers found more than half of the women who participated in the study worried about running out of food.
About four in 10 sometimes lacked food and nearly eight in 10 skipped meals or cut back on what they ate to make sure their children had enough.
A lack of affordable food, limited experience with budgeting and cooking, no hunter in the household and expensive addictions were all cited as reasons why they didn’t have enough food.
The high cost of hunting coupled with the high cost of buying drugs and alcohol also means many hunters now prefer to sell their meat instead of sharing it, women told researchers.
And nutrition programs from Government of Nunavut often are just for pregnant women or those with young children, they said.
Improving hunter support programs, subsidizing inter-community trade in country foods and help with tackling addictions were among the ways suggested to improve access to nutritious foods.
But Pitsulala Lyta, who works for Pauktuutit Inuit women’s association, listened to this presentation, and said it’s wrong to draw conclusions or generalize about all communities from one study in a single community.
“We do have our strong values,” she said.
Minnie Grey, who also attended the session, said Nunavik has been focusing on improving nutrition for nearly 20 years.
It’s done this by making sure there are community freezers stocked with free country foods, a meal program with country foods offered in all government-subsidized child care centres and lots of information provided in Inuttitut, said Grey, who is a former executive director of the regional health board and a member of the Nunavik’s health and nutrition committee.
Quebec, along with Makivik Corp. and the Kativik Regional Government, has also supported measures to lower the cost of healthy store-bought food through providing food coupons for elders, diabetics, the disabled or families those on welfare as well as store-wide rebates on many items.
Under the program, retailers may reduce the price of goods products like diapers, detergent and milk and recover the amount they discount to clients from the regional government.