Study: seven in 10 Nunavut families go hungry

“Immediate action” needed, health researchers say


YELLOWKNIFE — Most Nunavummiut don’t get enough to eat, researchers who worked on the Qanuippitali health survey in Nunavut said at last week’s International Congress on Circumpolar Health in Yellowknife.

The percentage of Nunavummiut who experience a lack of food during the year is seven times higher than the national average, their survey found.

Of 1,038 randomly selected households, seven in 10 ran short of food and four in 10 experienced a “severe” lack of food over the course of a year.

Six in 10 households had hunters in their families and shared country food.

But many households had no regular source of country food and were obliged to rely on friends and family for country food supplies.

Lack of money stopped them from buying store-bought food, the survey found.

“Addressing the quality and cost of market food while making improvements in access and affordability of country food will be the key to improving food security among Inuit,” the survey concluded.

Nunavut children appear affected the most by the shortage of good food.

When children do eat, studies show they often consume sweet, fat processed foods.

The Inuit Child Health Survey, part of the Qanuippitali survey, examined 388 randomly chosen children, three to five years of age, from 16 Nunavut communities.

It found nearly all had eaten cereal during the month before the survey, but far fewer had eaten country foods like seal. A third of their energy came from foods like high-sugar drinks, candy and sugary cereals.

And it also found the percentage of young children who are overweight is “extraordinarily” high, Dr. Tracey Galloway, a public health researcher, said during a presentation.

More than half of Nunavut children aged three to five are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, a rate 10 times higher than elsewhere in Canada and similar to that found in the poor urban slums of large American cities, Galloway said.

More young Nunavut boys are overweight and iron deficient than girls.

If trends continue, “we’re likely to see a lot of young Inuit men who are obese and have metabolic illnesses,” Galloway said.

Galloway said “immediate action” is needed to improve the situation. Encouraging more physical activity is among the other recommendations stemming from the survey.

The child health researchers plan to go back to three Nunavut communities to learn more about how and why many so many children become overweight.

To better track what happens to young children in Nunavut, the territory’s health department plans to start a major public health study this year.

The study will see nurses taking blood samples from women when they are 16 weeks pregnant. Their children will then continue to be regularly examined until they go to school.

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