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

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

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More calls come in for Cullen’s removal as NDP candidate

Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs demand Cullen’s removal. Ellis says, There’s no place in B.C. for racism

BC Liberal Party candidate for the North Coast Roy Jones Jr. will hold virtual face-to-face meetings for North Coast communities on Oct. 18. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
BC Liberal Candidate Roy Jones Jr, will meet constituents virtually

Face to face conversations will be held on Oct. 18 for North Coast communities

Kelly Lynn Whitney has been acclaimed as the successful candidate on Oct. 16, in the Village of Port Clements by Election. Seen in photos Kelly Whitney-Gould is pictured putting finishing touches on “Ms. Gnomer’s Home 4 Wayward Folk.” (Kelly Whitney-Gould/Submitted photo)
Kelly Lynn Whitney acclaimed in By Election

Village of Port Clements By Election success

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Surrey RCMP cruisers outside a Newton townhouse Tuesday night. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Toddler in hospital, woman dead following stabbings at Surrey townhouse

Police say two-year-old was among victims found at townhouse complex in the 12700-block of 66 Avenue

A Tim Hortons employee hands out coffee from a drive-through window to a customer in Mississauga, Ont., on March 17, 2020. Tim Hortons is ending the practice of double cupping hot drinks, a move the fast food restaurant says will eliminate hundreds of millions of cups from landfills each year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
The end of double cupping: Tim Hortons ditches two cups in favour of one with sleeve

Most recycling facilities in Canada don’t recycle single use paper coffee cups because of a plastic lining

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer doctor Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Tuesday October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s chief public health doctor says in the age of social media, fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading faster than the virus itself. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
VIDEO: Fake news creates serious issues for battling pandemic, chief public health doc says

Both Tam and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be responsible about the information they share

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Most Read