Two new research studies, published in the Journal of Nutrition and the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, (IJCH) have shown that more than half of Inuit pre-school aged children in Nunavut, Canada, are not receiving adequate amounts of their daily nutritional needs.
Data for the reports was collected as part of the Inuit Health Survey for International Polar Year, held in 2007-2008. That year marked the occasion’s third occurrence since it was first created as international research collaboration in 1882.
The study published in the Journal of Nutrition is based on data collected from 1,901 households, while the IJCH study is based on information collected from 388 participants, focusing more on the dietary habits of preschoolers.
According to dietary health surveys conducted in 16 communities over 2007-2008, 56 per cent of Nunavut's Inuit households with a young child were determined to be "child food insecure." These rates were ten times higher than the national average, as reported in the Canadian Community Health Survey. In the national survey, approximately five per cent of households were experiencing child food insecurity.
Seven on out of 10 Inuit households with a young child between the ages of three and five in Nunavut were also deemed "food insecure."
Dr. Grace Egeland, is an associate professor at McGill University's School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition. She is also the lead author of both research studies.
There are “subtle changes in diet that over the long term can have negative consequences," said Dr. Egeland, adding that her teams' research should be used to help food insecure families improve their diets.
Food insecurity is linked with such conditions as low levels of education, household income and access to social assistance. In order to be considered food secure, families must be able to access both traditional foods and foods from markets.
In order to achieve this, says the ICJH study, there is a need for support systems and dietary changes to help families with young children.
In a related story on aboriginal health, the Ontario Office of the Chief Coroner released a 215-page report on factors contributing to 16 child and youth suicides on the Pikangikum First Nation reserve. The report states that there is an urgent need to ameliorate basic living condition in impoverished, remote areas in the northern part of the province. Basic infrastructure, including clean drinking water, a sewage system, schools and recreational facilities and health care, is lacking, the report found. Consequently, many vulnerable children and young adults feel a sense of hopelessness.
Over the period of 2006-2008, 16 children and young people aged 10 to 19 committed suicide, mostly by hanging themselves. Tragically, since July 15 alone, another five young people have done the same. The community's suicide rate is 36 times the national average.
What're more, 27 per cent of girls in grades three and four admitted to sniffing gasoline in order to get high. Truancy also tends to begin at age 10, particularly in households where the parents suffer from alcoholism and do not wake up in time to prepare their children for school. According to the report, the children's situation is made worse by not attending school, as "their best opportunity for adequate nutrition comes from the school, which provides two meals a day."
According to a 2007 report by the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights entitled, Children: The Silenced Citizens, First Nations children also suffer disproportionately from poverty, youth criminal activity and child protection needs, as well as health problems, including malnutrition, drug use and suicide.
The report notes that health and addiction services are needed to help alleviate the community's social problems. Among its recommendations is to have "early childhood education programs to ensure that children are receiving valuable nurturing; nutritionally, physically and emotionally, that they might not otherwise receive."