Food security, nutritional health and traditional food go hand in hand for First Nations in Saskatchewan

Posted on Friday, May 25, 2018


Newly published results from a study on nutrition, food security and the environment in Saskatchewan First Nations show that food insecurity is a major concern and that many households would like more access to traditional foods.The study found that out of the 1042 participants, 37% of First Nations’ households in Saskatchewan are food insecure compared to less than 10% among Canadians and that the cost to feed healthy meals to a family of four could reach as high as $479 per week in northern First Nations.

The First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES), led by Laurie Chan, a professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of Ottawa in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations and Malek Batal, a professor from the University of Montreal, is the first national study of its kind. The recently published report details the dietary patterns, lifestyle and general health status of adults in 13 randomly selected First Nations from Saskatchewan.

Traditional food

Photo credit : Rebecca Hare

Craving more traditional food:

More than 90% of the study participants reported eating traditional food; the most popular choices are moose, blueberry and deer. Over 60 % of the people surveyed said they harvested traditional food and about 40% of the participants declared they hunted and fished. Barriers to a greater access of traditional food included the lack of a hunter in the household, equipment/transportation and/or knowledge. 

The majority of participants (78%) said they wanted to eat more traditional foods, which are known to be higher in many nutrients than store-bought equivalents, and are lower in saturated fat, sugar and sodium.

Healthy eating:

Traditional food

Photo credit : Carol Armstrong-Monohan

Participants tend to eat less than the recommended servings of grain products, fruits and vegetables, milk and alternatives, but on days where they ate traditional food, the intake of many nutrients including protein, Vitamins A, D, B12 and B6, Iron, Zinc and Magnesium were higher.

Other good news for First Nations in Saskatchewan is the employment of full-time registered dietitians. Their presence has increased support for food security initiatives through awareness, skill building and advocating for a more food secure community. These registered dietitians work with Indigenous communities as allies in addressing food security interventions, as prioritized by the Tribal Council or First Nation.

Other key study findings

  • Top traditional foods included moose, blueberry and deer.
  • Long term boil water advisories lasting more than two years were reported in three First Nations and only 65% of households reported drinking tap water.
  • Tap water was generally safe as exceedances of metals of public health concern were only found in 2.6% of the sampled households (6 out of 234).
  • Only 34% of adults are physically active and 26% said they were in excellent health
  • 19% of adults had diabetes and 72% were smokers
  • Contaminants in traditional foods were generally low and did not warrant any health concerns.
  • Hair mercury levels were within Health Canada’s guideline normal acceptable range except for 1.3% of participants (7 out of 555). Exceedances were more prevalent in women of childbearing age living in northern communities.

The data collected in 2015 will serve as a benchmark for future studies to the nutritional and environmental health of First Nations in Saskatchewan.

The release of study results for Saskatchewan First Nations took place at the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Legislative Assembly at the Dakota Dunes Casino on Whitecap First Nation on May 24th, 2018.

Media Inquiries:

Karyne Vienneau
Media Relations Officer
University of Ottawa

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