Nutrition strategy aims to reduce hunger, fight diet-related disorders with supplements

Nunavut takes aim against rickets, anemia

By JANE GEORGE

At Cambridge Bay's Kiilinik High School, students headed out to hunt caribou last month, bringing back more than enough meat to feed the entire school.

Preparing a meal of oven-baked potatoes, cooked carrots and roasted caribou became a school-wide activity, which gave students valuable experience in the kitchen- as well as a healthy and nutritious lunch.

The high school, which also offers a "breakfast club," is already well on the way to helping Nunavut reach its goal of reducing hunger by 2015.

Nearly half of Nunavut households go hungry at some time during the year, and more than two-thirds of lower income households in Nunavut don't have enough money to buy food, a 2001 study showed.

To deal with this, the Nunavut government's health department released a nutritional strategy, tabled in the assembly Nov. 5.

The document says poor nutrition leads to high levels of chronic health conditions that damage the whole territory.

"If an essential need such as food is not met, it is not realistic to expect people to think about pursuing higher levels of learning, finding and maintaining employment, or volunteering or taking leadership in the community," the strategy says.

Nunavut's target by 2017 is to lower the number of hungry Nunavummiut by five per cent and find a way to increase access to country foods.

Fighting hunger will also combat anemia, which affected nearly half the infants in one Nunavut community, the strategy says.

Anemia can slow down brain development and cause behaviour problems. Nutritionists say iron-fortified formula should be given to non-breastfed babies, and introducing meat earlier into infants' diet can produce stronger and healthier babies.

To fight anemia, Nunavik child care centres already offer iron-rich menus and promote country foods – Nunavut now wants to do the same.

As a side benefit, more and better food will improve dental health, says the strategy. Six in 10 Nunavut children under six must be put under general anesthesia in a hospital to have their decayed teeth repaired or extracted.

Nunavut's new nutrition strategy, "Titiaviait Nirijaksat Nunavutmi," also takes aim at a life-threatening condition, called rickets.

Nunavut has the highest level of bone-softening rickets in Canada, with at least 31 cases diagnosed among young children since 1999.

The addition of vitamin D to milk and many processed foods, vitamin supplements for young children, and improved nutrition have made rickets rare in most industrialized nations.

But Inuit infants who are breastfed without supplements seem to be at high risk of getting rickets, possibly because they don't get enough sunlight, which is a natural source of Vitamin D.

Nunavut wants to halve the number of rickets cases by 2013 and eliminate rickets altogether by 2017, by giving Vitamin D to pregnant women and infants.

By 2013, all Nunavut babies, children and pregnant women will receive Vitamin D supplements and the iron-rich food they need to protect them against rickets and anemia.

Nunavut also wants to cut the cost of nutritious food for pregnant women, increase the number of women who breastfeed, bring more country food into all of Nunavut's child care centres and schools, hire regional dieticians, and support nutritious school food programs.

The nutrition strategy complements Nunavut's public health strategy for 2008-2013, released during the recent legislative sitting, which focuses on producing healthy children and families and reducing addictions in the territory.

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