Nunavik health survey tracks physical, mental, cultural well-being

“This is the result of many years of work”

An Inukjuamiut woman is interviewed on board the Qanuilirpitaa research vessel in August 2017. (Photo by Yves Choquette)

By Sarah Rogers

The results of a 2017 health survey of Nunavik residents are finally in, offering a snapshot of how well Nunavimmiut are faring physically, mentally and culturally.

The survey — called Qanuilirpitaa, or “How are we doing now” — interviewed and tested 1,326 Nunavimmiut in the summer and fall of 2017, touring the region by icebreaker.

It was second survey of its kind, following the inaugural Qanuipitaa — “How are we doing?” — survey first held in 2004.

In many cases, the health and habits of Nunavimmiut show improvements from that first survey: Inuit in the region report better lung function, satisfaction with life and higher iron levels.

But the majority of Nunavimmiut still smoke. As well, almost all reported experiencing intergenerational trauma of some kind, as a result of historical events such as residential school attendance, forced relocation or the slaughter of sled dogs.

“This is the result of many years of work, now available and ready for use by our partners to guide their actions,” said Minnie Grey, executive director of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services.

The results of the survey also highlight the importance of cultural identity and traditional values for health and well-being. The goal is to help the region improve its delivery of services to the region, Grey said.

Nunavik health officials and researchers presented some of Qanuilirpitaa’s results to Kativik Regional Government council meetings Nov. 25.

2017 was the first time the survey addressed respiratory health in the region, they explained, by using a spirometer to measure lung capacity.

“We were able to determine that over 80 per cent of Nunavimmiut has good lung function,” said Pierre Ayotte, a health researcher at Laval University who has been analyzing Qanuilirpitaa’s data.

“We were able to see that those who stopped smoking were able to recover good lung health.”

Smoking is the main cause of respiratory illness and the survey found that 72 per cent of Nunavimmiut are daily smokers, “which is a problem since smoking in the main determinant of lung health,” Ayotte said.

“We also identified that going out on the land frequently and participating in harvesting activities were associated with good lung health.”

In the 2004 survey, anemia and low iron emerged as a major health issue in the region, affecting between 34 and 45 per cent of its residents, mostly women of child-bearing age. But the latest survey showed anemia and low iron impacted fewer Nunavimmiut, between 22 and 24 per cent of residents.

“This is a big improvement,” Ayotte said.

“The high consumption of sugary drink, like pops, [is linked] to lower iron consumption. Nunavimmiut who consume a lot of hot beverages, like coffee or tea, are also at increased risk of anemia.”

Some of Qanuilirpitaa’s other findings:

• Thirty-two per cent use of people in Nunavik use cannabis. Twenty-nine per cent reported that they binge drink weekly (at least five drinks on one occasion).

• Seven out of 10 Nunavimmiut reported good oral health, though nearly 80 per cent were found to have deep cavities in need of treatment. Forty-five per cent of Nunavimmiut have a least one damaged or missing tooth at the front of their mouth.

• One in five Nunavik residents reported an injury in the last year that limited their regular activities. The main causes of those injuries were falls and vehicle accidents, cuts, frostbite and firearm-related events. Men and young people were most likely to have injuries.

• Eight out of 10 Nunavimmiut said they are satisfied with their life. But four out of 10 reported experiencing depression in recent days. Nunavimmiut who reported strong cultural identity also reported higher life satisfaction, better perception of their health, higher self-esteem and resilience.

• Ninety-nine per cent of Nunavimmiut say they are proud to be Inuk, while 95 per cent said that speaking Inuktitut is an important part of their identity. Ninety-one percent of Inuit in the region reported fluency in Inuktitut.

• Seventy-six per cent of Nunavik residents said they had confidence in the delivery of health services. But only 57 per cent said those services were sensitive to Inuit realities — 81 per cent want to see health care better adapted to the Inuit culture.

• Forty-two per cent of respondents said they were treated unfairly or discriminated against in different contexts at least a few times in the year before the survey.

Ayotte said there are a number of support services and lifestyle changes that could help improve physical and mental health outcomes for Nunavimmiut: increased access to country food, opting for water over sugary drinks, quitting smoking, better access to dental services and culturally appropriate strategies for travelling out on the land.

You can read the results of Qanuilirpitaa here.

The research was coordinated by the National Public Health Institute of Quebec along with Laval, McGill and Trent universities and headed by a Nunavik-based steering committee.

A more thorough analysis of the findings will be published over the winter in Inuktitut, English and French, the health board said.

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