Impacts of decline harvest of country food on nutrient intake among Inuit in Arctic Canada: impact of climate change and possible adaptation plan

1 Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada; 2 School of Health Sciences, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC, Canada


Background. The pervasive food insecurity and the diet transition away from local, nutrient-rich country foods present a public health challenge among Inuit living in the Canadian Arctic. While environmental factors such as climate change decreased the accessibility and availability of many country food species, new species were introduced into regions where they were previously unavailable. An adaptation such as turning to alternate country food species can be a viable solution to substitute for the nutrients provided by the declined food species. The objective of this study was to estimate the impact on nutrient intake using hypothetical scenarios that current commonly harvested country foods were reduced by 50%, and were replaced with alternate or new species.

Methods. Data collected during the 2007–2008 Inuit Health Survey from 36 Canadian Arctic communities spanning Nunavut, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region and Nunatsiavut were used.

Results. A 50% decline in consumption of fish, whale, ringed seals and birds (the food that was reported to be in decline) resulted in a significant decrease in essential nutrient intake. Possible substitute foods were identified but some nutrients such as zinc and especially vitamin D were most often found lacking in the alternative diet.

Conclusions. If the alternative species are not available or feasible, more expensive and less nutritionally dense store-bought foods may be sought. Given the superior quality of country foods and their association with food security, and Inuit cultural health and personal identity, developing skills and awareness for adaptation, promoting regional sharing networks, forming a co-management agency and continuing nutritional monitoring may potentially preserve the nutritional integrity of Inuit diet, and in turn their health and cultural survival.

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