Poor health picture for First Nations and Inuit in Canada


A health report released this week confirms that aboriginal peoples’ health is worse than that of Canadians as a whole.

While they are making some gains, their lives are still on average five to 10 years shorter than those of other Canadians, says a report by Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), an independent organization mandated by Canada’s health ministers to provide health information.

Its report finds that compared with the rest of the Canadian population, First Nations and Inuit have higher suicide and infant mortality rates. Aboriginal peoples also have three times the rate of diabetes and 16 times the rate of tuberculosis.

In general, Aboriginal peoples experience worse social, economic and environmental conditions than those of non-Aboriginal people.

Average educational levels are lower for Aboriginal peoples, fewer Aboriginal peoples are employed and their average incomes are lower. These factors could be contributing to their lower health status relative to non-Aboriginal people in Canada, the report suggests.

At least 33 per cent of First Nations and Inuit, compared to 18 per cent of non-Aboriginal people, live in inadequate, unsuitable or unaffordable housing, according to data from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. Poor housing has been associated with health problems.

Climate change may also be causing direct negative impacts on Inuit health, including increased exposure to ultraviolet rays and toxins. The report cites a 1997 study which found that over 50 per cent of Inuit in one Baffin Island community had dietary exposure levels of mercury, toxaphene and chlordane exceeding the tolerable daily intake levels set by Health Canada and the World Health Organization.

On the positive side, the report says new research suggests that efforts to preserve and promote cultural practices and to control and manage resources seem to be improving Aboriginal people’s health status.

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