STUDY: Quebec and Labrador First Nations continue to embrace traditional food but rates of food insecurity are very high

Posted on Thursday, May 2, 2019

Traditional food

Newly released results from a 2016 study on the diet, nutrition, and environment of First Nations in Quebec and Labrador show many positive results. Ninety-five percent of adults interviewed indicated that they were able to access traditional food: commonly consumed foods include moose, Labrador tea and blueberry and close to 80% of households were directly involved in harvesting.

The First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES) is a partnership between First Nations in Quebec/Labrador, the Assembly of First Nations, the University of Ottawa and the Université de Montréal. It is the first study of its kind at the Canadian level. The recently published report details the dietary patterns, lifestyle and general health status of 10 First Nations from the AFN Quebec/Labrador region.

There is a strong preference for more traditional food

Eighty-four percent of participants said they would like to have more traditional food which, when included in the diet, is a key source of iron and other essential nutrients. The results showed that the diet improves when traditional food such as strawberries, caribou and salmon, is present.

While 59% and 60% of households, respectively, reported hunting and fishing, many indicated that barriers preventing them from harvesting more often included insufficient human and capital resources for harvesting, along with availability and time.

Traditional food analyses highlight, as was the case in other regions where this study occurred, that the benefits of eating traditional food outweigh the relatively low risks. Contamination of meat from lead ammunition is still a key concern.

Exposure to mercury is higher in the north

Sixty-six percent of all participants provided a hair mercury sample to further evaluate exposure to this metal of human health concern. Ninety-four percent of samples were within guideline levels: exceedances were found in more northern areas. These results indicate a need for sustained risk communication and education on both the importance of traditional food and suggestions on how to reduce risk of exposure to mercury.

The rates of food insecurity are very high

36 percent of households are food insecure with 8% households experiencing regular food shortages. While the benefit of eating traditional food is evident, results showed that adults did not consume the recommended amounts of grains, vegetables, fruit and dairy products.

Overweight/obesity, smoking and diabetes are major public health issues

Almost half of participants said that they smoked, 91% are overweight or obese, and 25% live with diabetes. Nearly a third reported that they were physically active and felt that their health was very good.

The water quality is satisfactory

Tap water testing was undertaken in 156 homes for metals that can affect health or have an aesthetic objective. Metals were within guideline values. However, only 52% of adults reported drinking tap water regularly while 96% use it for cooking. 

Low levels of pharmaceuticals were found in surface water samples and these levels should not be harmful to the communities’ health.


For more information:
Karyne Vienneau
Media Relations Officer
University of Ottawa
Cell.: 613-762-2908            

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