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

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In 5 seconds

A new study finds that food insecurity is a big concern and lead ammunition still a problem, and reminds people not to drink from the hot-water tap nor use that water to cook.

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%.

The First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES), led by the University of Ottawa in partnership with the Assembly of First Nations and Université de 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 well-being of First Nations,” said lead investigator Laurie Chan, a UofO biology professor. “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

Professor Malek Batal.

Credit: Amélie Philibert

While a large majority of study participants said they had harvested and eaten traditional foods over the previous 12 months, 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,” said Malek Batal, an associate professor of medicine at UdeM. “First Nations people living on reserve in the Atlantic region do not enjoy easy access to either healthy market food or traditional foods for a number of reasons, including cost.”

More traces of lead in game meat

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 generally satisfactory

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 on Sept. 27 and 28 at the annual general meeting of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat.

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.

About the Assembly of First Nations

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

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