Obesity, diabetes spikes in people who abandon traditional lifestyle and country foods

Couch potato diet enough to make you sick

By JANE GEORGE

It's easier to buy a soda pop, open a bag of chips and sit down in front of a television set than to fish or hunt for food.

But when Nunavimmiut adopt this kind of inactive, couch-potato lifestyle, they eat fewer country foods and become less healthy, the 2004 Qanuippitaa Inuit health survey shows.

The survey finds today's diet, which is increasingly based on processed, sugary and salty store-bought foods, has produced more vitamin deficiencies, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes among Nunavimmiut.

The worst news is that this diet doesn't even stave off hunger: one in four Nunavimmiut told Qanuippitaa researchers they experienced hunger in 2004.

Hunger can also contribute to the development of chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and may cause psychological distress, the survey notes.

Hunger particularly affects Inuit from the Hudson communities and those who have no job, no spouse and a low income.

For the survey, whose highlights were released last week in Kuujjuaq, 1,056 Inuit men and women, 15 to 83, were received on board the Amundsen, interviewed and tested on their physical and mental health.

Overall, in 2004 Nunavimmiut consumed a smaller amount of country foods, such as seal meat, Arctic char, muktuk, caribou and ptarmigan, and ate these high-protein, nutritious foods less often than they did in 1992. Then, they ate country foods about eight times a week, compared to five times a week in 2004.

The decline of country foods in the diet exists despite reports from nine in 10 households that they get country foods from community freezers. The use of community freezers also appeared to be more frequent than in 1992.

While hunting, fishing and berry collecting still remain important activities for Nunavimmiut, the survey says these activities appear to be practiced more frequently by older, married males and among those with a higher personal annual income.

Nunavik women appear to be the hardest hit by the combined impacts of an inactive lifestyle and poor diet.

The survey finds they are more liable to become overweight or obese than men and to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, iron deficiency and anemia, which are all potentially life-threatening conditions.

They're also subject to osteoporosis, which puts them at risk of bone fractures later in life.

"One of the reasons appears to be that their diet lacks calcium. If you don't get enough calcium, your bones will degenerate," said Dr. Serge Déry, the director of public health for Nunavik.

A cookbook filled with easy-to-make, healthy recipes, stepped-up diabetes prevention activities and breakfast programs in every school are among the Nunavik regional health board's projects to improve eating habits.

Finding ways to provide good, nourishing food for girls and young women is essential, Déry said.

The diet of older Inuit included twice the amount more country foods than that of women and men, 18 to 29. They got the largest proportion of their calories from starchy or sweet foods.

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