More than half of Inuit in northern Canada don’t get enough food

By Thomas Rohner, Nunatsiaq News - February 2, 2017

A majority of Inuit adults in Nunavut continue to be hit hard by food insecurity, while those who are most vulnerable are hit the hardest.

That’s according to a new Statistics Canada report, called “Food Insecurity among Inuit Living in Inuit Nunangat, 2012,” released Feb. 1.

Overall, the study found more than half—or about 52 percent—of all Inuit adults in Inuit Nunangat (Canada’s Inuit regions) suffered from food insecurity in 2012.

The highest levels of food insecurity in Inuit Nunangat among Inuit adults in 2012 were found in Nunavut and Nunavik—around 55 percent—followed by Nunatsiavut at 42 percent, and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories at 33 percent.

But only about 14 percent of Inuit living outside Inuit Nunangat experienced food insecurity over the same time period, StatsCan said.

The study defines food insecurity as situations where there is not enough money to buy food, or household members skip meals or reduce their meal sizes because of a lack of money to buy food.

The study’s data, collected from the last Aboriginal People’s Survey, showed that the most vulnerable Inuit are those most affected by food insecurity.

For example, single parents are more likely to have suffered from food insecurity (56 percent) than two-parent families (52 percent) or couples without children (35 percent.)

Those suffering from lower levels of mental health were also more likely to suffer from food insecurity compared to those with higher levels of mental health (59 versus 44 percent.)

And unemployed Inuit adults were significantly more likely to suffer from food insecurity than employed Inuit (77 percent versus 43 percent.)

But the StatsCan study did not say if food insecurity among Inuit in Inuit Nunangat has increased or decreased in recent years.

And conflicting data has been reported, adding to the uncertainty.

For example, according to a study released by StatsCan in 2015, over one third, or around 37 percent, of all Nunavut households suffered from food insecurity in 2011-12.

As well, a study published by the Circumpolar Health Journal in 2016 said Inuit in Nunavut are up to 11 times more likely to experience food insecurity than non-Inuit.

According to some research, the number of food insecure households in Nunavut appears to have gone down: Researchers at the 2010 ArcticNet Conference in Ottawa said 70 percent of Nunavut households—or seven in 10—suffer from food insecurity.

All studies, however, point to significantly higher food insecurity in Nunavut than anywhere else in Canada.

For example, a 2013 study by researchers from the University of Toronto found that nearly 57 percent of children in Nunavut—nearly six in 10 children—suffered from food insecurity, compared to the provincial average of about 19 per cent, or one in five.