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Territory lacks food security: study
Food bank, breakfast programs and government programs try to address the issue

Nicole Veerman
Northern News Services
Published Monday, September 12, 2011

It's not surprising that a new study shows more than half of Nunavut Inuit households with a young child are considered "child food insecure," says a representative of the Niqinik Nuatsivik Nunavut Food Bank in Iqaluit.

NNSL photo/graphic

Shelves were nearly empty of food at the Tudjaat Co-op in Resolute earlier this summer. A new study says more than half of Inuit households in Nunavut with a young child are having trouble getting enough to eat. - photo courtesy of Sheeba Nangmalik

"Anytime we see numbers of hunger, it's staggering and unfortunately, it's always increasing, regardless of what demographic or what skew you're looking at, whether it's people with children in the house or single adults or whatever, it's always such a high number in this territory," said Jennifer Hayward.

A study, led by Dr. Grace Egeland of McGill University, was published this month in the Journal of Nutrition, showing that 56 per cent of Nunavut Inuit households with a young child are "child food insecure." The results came from a preschool health survey conducted in 16 Nunavut communities between 2007 and 2008.

Food insecure means in the previous year, the household was unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all its members because of insufficient funds.

"The report is sadly not shocking to those who are involved in food security issues," Hayward said. "Access to quality, healthy, nutritious foods has long been a challenge in remote communities.

"Every year our numbers at the food bank have gone up and they continue to rise."

In March, Niqinik Nuatsivik Nunavut Food Bank served 134 households and 562 individuals.

Hayward said food banks always look at March as a standard month, with numbers usually increasing in the winter and decreasing in the summer.

"Our numbers increase in the winter time and we attribute it to there's more demands on people's resources, you know, heating costs, lights need to be on longer, fuel needs to be turned up more. But also there's usually more people in a household. There's usually less people working."

Hayward said country food is also harder to access in the winter, making households increasingly more dependent on the food bank or the grocery store. This makes perishable food the most unattainable for many people in Nunavut, she said.

"Fresh foods are something we would love to give out, but because we can't that makes them almost unattainable or puts them out of reach. People can come to us to get nonperishables, but there's nowhere for them to go, other than to go and purchase, that they can get fresh food."

Jordan Simms, a teacher at Maani Ulujuk Illiniarvik in Rankin Inlet, facilitates the school's breakfast program, which provides two nutritious snacks to students everyday.

The breakfast program, like the food bank, is one way to help address the hunger problem in the territory.

"Each student gets two snacks per day. We don't ask questions, ‘Did you eat breakfast?' or ‘No?' or anything like that. They're there and you kind of help yourself as you come in and have a banana and a granola bar or a juice, whatever we offer that day.

"There's no stigma about it and hopefully they can do their best for the rest of their morning. The hope is that fully bellies lead to full minds and that's we want here."

Jennifer Wakegijig, territorial public health nutritionist, said the Department of Health and Social Services is also working to address the issue of food insecurity.

"There are basically three main things that people can try to affect. There's the availability of food. There's people's access to food and there's how people use the food that there is access to.

"Within our department, our role is mostly focusing on, in some ways we have the ability to affect people's access to food and of course through nutrition education to help people gain skills in the food that they do have access to."

There are prenatal nutrition programs, parenting programs, with a focus on food and nutrition-related skills, and investments in existing breakfast programs in the territory, she said.

"Those are the main investments on the budget in the area of child food security."

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