Food insecurity and quality a big concern for Atlantic region’s First Nations

Posted on Thursday, September 28, 2017

Empty plate on light blue background

Newly published results from a study on food security and quality in First Nations communities in the Atlantic provinces show that food insecurity is rampant and that many households would like more access to traditional foods. The study found that 31% of First Nations households in the Atlantic provinces are severely or moderately food insecure, compared to the national average of 8%.

Logo for the First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study

The First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES), led by the University of Ottawa in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations and the University of Montreal, is the first national study of its kind. The recently published report for the Atlantic provinces details the dietary patterns, lifestyle and general health status of over 1,000 adults in 11 randomly selected First Nations communities.

“Our findings provide a snapshot on the important links between a healthy environment and the wellbeing of First Nations,” says lead investigator Laurie Chan, a professor in the University of Ottawa’s Department of Biology. “Food insecurity is the main issue identified by participating communities, and we hope the results will be useful for planning environment and public health policies for years to come.”

An appetite for traditional foods

While a large majority of study participants said they harvested and ate traditional foods in the last year, most indicated they would prefer to have a greater proportion of these foods in their diet. Barriers to access include lack of time or knowledge to harvest traditional foods, the absence of a harvester in the community and lack of equipment or means of transportation.  Some also cited resource availability, government regulations and the impact of development and industry.

Traditional foods are known to be higher in many nutrients than store-bought equivalents, and lower in saturated fat, sugar and sodium. “Despite the clear benefits of consuming traditional foods, limited access in Indigenous communities points to a systemic problem in the food environment,” says Malek Batal of the University of Montreal. “First Nations people living on reserve in the Atlantic region do not enjoy an easy access to either healthy market food or traditional foods for a number of reasons, including cost.”

Higher levels of lead in game

The study also found higher levels of lead in deer, rabbit, squirrel and grouse meats, likely due to the use of lead shot for hunting. Using steel ammunition when hunting and cutting away the portion of meat surrounding the bullet entry area can decrease the risk of lead exposure. The authors of the study recommend public awareness campaigns, changes in regional and national policies, and exchange programs to help eliminate the use of lead ammunition.

Water quality

Despite continuing concerns in some Atlantic First Nations communities, the study found that water quality, as indicated by levels of metals and pharmaceuticals, was satisfactory overall at the time. However, the authors caution that close monitoring is necessary, as water sources and treatment vary significantly. The report also recommends avoiding the use of water from hot water taps for drinking and cooking, since higher levels of metals are found in hot water due to dissolution in hot water tanks and pipes.  

Other key study findings

  • The rate of smoking among adults on reserve in the Atlantic provinces, at 52%, is higher than the national average of 15%.
  • No exceedances for mercury were detected in the 632 hair samples collected from participants.
  • 40% of Atlantic region First Nations people are physically active, compared to a national average of 54%.

The data, collected in 2014, will serve as a benchmark for future studies, to determine how changes in the environment are affecting concentrations of worrisome chemicals and to assess changes in diet quality. The regional release of study results for the Atlantic provinces took place in Dartmouth at the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat Annual General Meeting on September 27 and 28. 

The University of Ottawa—A crossroads of cultures and ideas
The University of Ottawa is home to over 50,000 students, faculty and staff, who live, work and study in both French and English. Our campus is a crossroads of cultures and ideas, where bold minds come together to inspire game-changing ideas. We are one of Canada’s top 10 research universities—our professors and researchers explore new approaches to today’s challenges. One of a handful of Canadian universities ranked among the top 200 in the world, we attract exceptional thinkers and welcome diverse perspectives from across the globe. uottawa.ca

About Université de Montréal
Université de Montréal and its two affiliated schools, École Polytechnique (engineering) and HEC Montréal (business), are amongst the world's top universities, according to international rankings. Founded in 1878, the campus today has over 67,000 students and 2,700 professors, making Université de Montréal the second largest university in Canada. Its students are drawn to the university by its deep roots in cosmopolitan Montreal and in consideration of its tenacious dedication to its international mission. umontreal.ca/english

About the Assembly of First Nations
The AFN is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.  Follow AFN on Twitter @AFN_Updates.

Media inquiries

Amélie Ferron-Craig
Media Relations Officer
University of Ottawa
Cell: 613-863-7221
aferronc@uOttawa.ca  

Julie Gazaille
Press Officer
Université de Montréal
(514) 343-6796
j.cordeau-gazaille@umontreal.ca

Alain Garon
Bilingual Communications Officer
Assembly of First Nations
613-241-6789 ext. 382
613-292-0857 (cell)
agaron@afn.ca

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