Obesity, diabetes linked to food insecurity: report

“We need important and strong actions taking place now”


Events organized by the Cambridge Bay Wellness Centre for young mothers and children always feature an array of yummy, healthy food. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Events organized by the Cambridge Bay Wellness Centre for young mothers and children always feature an array of yummy, healthy food. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

A Canadian Science Publishing report is pleading for solutions to food insecurity and suggests better prenatal care to alleviate the growing problem of obesity and diabetes among Inuit children.

Its report, released last January, says Inuit children in Nunavut “are predominantly overweight or obese despite living in homes with food insecurity” and blames this on “readily available, energy-dense, highly processed foods in the Arctic.”

About one in two Inuit aged six to eight are obese, or 46 per cent, compared with eight per cent among Canada’s non-aboriginal population, according to a 2006 Statistics Canada aboriginal peoples survey.

A large part of the report focuses on food insecurity in the North, something that’s closely linked with diabetes and obesity. The report says 31 per cent of Inuit youth live in a moderately food insecure home.

“Consistently, in studies that measure both food security and health outcomes, the two go hand-in-hand,” said the co-author of the report, University of Alberta professor Noreen Willows.

Willows doesn’t expect the high rate of obesity or diabetes for Inuit to go down any time soon though. She says there are no short-term solutions, but it’s not a matter of throwing money at the problem, either.

Willows said the Nutrition North Canada program is “obviously in and of itself not enough,” and Canada doesn’t have anything that compares to the United States’ food stamp program to help buy nutritious food.

“Most chronic conditions require special diets, healthy foods. If you’re food insecure, you can’t treat your own illness with better nutrition,” said Willows, who added type 2 diabetes has been called an “epidemic” for aboriginal people.

Willows is calling on Ottawa to do something about it.

“Addressing childhood obesity is essential to ensure health of future generations of aboriginal people. We need important and strong actions taking place now,” she said.

Willows would like to see federal government programs put into place which would cover hot lunch or breakfast programs “so at least every child has one meal a day that is healthy.”

“A child spends one-third of their lives in schools, for up to six to eight hours a day. It’s an ideal environment to target healthy food choices,” she said.

Her report also said healthier prenatal care for pregnant women is a key to good health, pointing out that unhealthy weight gain during pregnancy can influence the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Nunavut has Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program locations in Baker Lake, Iqaluit, Arviat, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Taloyoak to help pregnant mothers with a number of pregnancy and newborn issues, including diet.

Pre- and post-natal care is something that NDP aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder, who recently visited Nunavut, said will help.

“[But] it’s a complicated problem, and it will need a complicated answer,” Crowder told Nunatsiaq News June 6.

“We need a range of solutions that will help address it, including information awareness, how to read levels, appropriate labeling. And appropriate housing, because housing links to it as well.”

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