Almost half of all First Nations families are ‘food insecure’: 10-year study

Overall, 48 per cent of First Nation households have difficulty putting enough food on the table

Almost half of all First Nations families are ‘food insecure’: 10-year study

Rates of obesity and diabetes are higher among First Nations adults than in the general Canadian population, while almost half of all Indigenous families have difficulty putting enough food on the table, a new study has found.

The findings are contained in the first full draft of the final report of the First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study, released this week as part of a national Indigenous food and health forum in Ottawa.

Ten years in the making, the study offers the first comprehensive look at diet and nutrition patterns among Indigenous populations in Canada. It also looks at the role of traditional food in health outcomes and whether the food and water that is being consumed is safe.

The findings conclude that Indigenous communities are struggling with “extremely high” rates of food insecurity, a perpetual problem that has a dramatic impact on the health of residents.

Overall, 48 per cent of First Nation households have difficulty putting enough food on the table. Families with children are even more likely to struggle, the study found.

Food insecurity — a term used to describe those who do not have enough income to cover their food costs — was reported to be even higher among First Nations households in Alberta, where 60 per cent of Indigenous families are struggling to feed their families. That figure is more than seven times higher than the national food insecurity rate of 8.4 per cent. Those in remote communities with no year-round access to a service centre also reported significantly higher food insecurity rates.

One main culprit? Higher prices for healthy food in rural and remote communities compared to urban centres, making healthy food “beyond the reach of many families,” the study says.

People are also finding it increasingly difficult to access traditional food, which is healthier and is foundational to the culture and traditions of Indigenous communities.

As a result, obesity and diabetes rates are soaring. Eighty-two per cent of all Indigenous adults are overweight or obese while one-fifth have diabetes, according to the data — rates that are double and triple the national averages, respectively. Smoking rates are also significantly higher.

Malek Batal of the University of Montreal, one of the study’s lead investigators, says the findings show governments must do more remove barriers in access to traditional food to help address the disproportionately high rates of First Nations food insecurity and the chronic disease.

One key trend noted by the scientists is that when traditional food is present, nutrition and diet quality improve.

However, more than half of Indigenous adults say harvesting traditional food has been hampered by industry activities and climate change.

“Traditional food is still of much better quality than the market food that is available to First Nations in most communities. The traditional food system is very important for health reasons, and obviously, for cultural reasons,” Batal said.

“The study shows that it’s an eco-systemic problem, that there are issues that have to do with the ecosystem, with the way we access traditional food, with the health of the species that people would like to harvest… but it’s up to governments at different levels to recognize the rights of Indigenous peoples, in this case First Nations, to access traditional food in a healthy environment.”

Among traditional foods like fish and game, the study found mostly normal ranges of contaminants, although pockets of problems were flagged. High levels of lead were found in some meat sources, such as bison, moose and birds, due to the use of lead-based ammunition for hunting. Higher intakes of mercury were also identified among some women in northern areas who consume pike and walleye.

Pharmaceuticals were also present in a significant number of surface water bodies near First Nations communities.

“This is not just a First Nations community problem, this is really a Canada-wide issue,” Chan noted. “We are seeing more and more pharmaceuticals in surface water in many watersheds.”

The authors of the study are urging government to “urgently address systemic problems relating to food, nutrition and the environment” affecting First Nations communities.

They provide a list of recommendations, including a call for more access to the traditional food system through a combination of subsidies to support growing, harvesting and food preservation. They are also calling for higher food prices in rural areas to be reduced by increasing community eligibility for subsidy programs, such as Nutrition North. They also believe government should provide more money to help ramp-up food production and distribution systems that are run by Indigenous people.

Batal says he hopes the research, which was the largest and longest study of First Nations health and nutrition ever in Canada, doesn’t end up gathering dust.

“I think can governments can no longer ignore these results. When we look at those food insecurity rates, when we look at chronic disease, particularly diabetes and obesity, how can you not do something about that?” he said.

“If they turn a blind eye to these results, I would despair, because I think they’re pretty clear.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

School District 20 is advising the public there has been a positive case of COVID-19 at the Trail high school. Photo: Trail Times
COVID exposures at three West Kootenay schools

Three West Kootenay schools have students in isolation

Dr. Katherine Oldfield is a naturopathic physician, mother, and active member of the Nelson-West Kootenay chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Photo: Submitted
COLUMN: Restore our Earth, restore our health

Katherine Oldfield marks Earth Day by writing about the priorities we need to have

Air Canada will not be resuming flight to Castlegar anytime soon. Photo: Betsy Kline
Service to West Kootenay Regional Airport not included in Air Canada deal announcement

Air Canada will not be resuming flights to Castlegar at this time

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Letisha Reimer, 13, was killed Nov. 1, 2016 in a stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
Second-degree murder conviction stands for Abbotsford school killer

Judge finds that Gabriel Klein is criminally responsible for death of Letisha Reimer

FILE – RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by as protesters opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion block rail lines, in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday, November 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Very scary’: B.C. travel rules too vague, shouldn’t involve police, civil liberties group says

BCCLA said that speaking with communities could have avoided top-down approach

Balsamroot, pictured here, can be found on Sunflower Hill in the Kimberley Nature Park, Eager Hill, Wycliffe Buttes, and many other areas across the Rocky Mountain Trench. (Paul Rodgers file)
Spring’s yearly spectacle of balsamroot

Ever year in May, balsamroot emerges for a brief showy period

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Ocean Legacy Foundation members conduct a shoreline pollution cleanup in Vancouver. (OLP)
It’s time to end ‘suffocating’ plastic pollution along B.C. shorelines, advocates urge

This Earth Day, Ocean Legacy Foundation is launching a free educational platform to educate the public about plastic pollution

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
B.C. teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. university rowing coach ‘deeply sorry’ after complaints

Barney Williams says he’s been committed to ensuring no other member of the roster had a similar experience

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
B.C. girl’s wish granted as her cat came back, two years later

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

Most Read