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Our Babies, Our Future

July 2012 – Many Aboriginal families and communities regard children as “sacred gifts from the spirit world”, as author Janet Smylie reminds us in a new NCCAH factsheet, Our Babies, Our Future: Aboriginal birth outcomes in British Columbia. This factsheet, and another by the same author, focus on aspects of Aboriginal child health within British Columbia and how infant and child health reflects the health and well-being of communities.

Our Babies, Our Future: Aboriginal birth outcomes in British Columbia, presents the different measures of birth outcomes, such as rates of infant mortality and preterm births, and birth weights, comparing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations. Unfortunately, there are significant gaps in the data available on Aboriginal infant and child health measures, though existing information provides evidence for persistent disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal infant health measures.For example, overall death rates for infants born to First Nations compared to non-First Nations parents were at least twice as high according to a longitudinal study in BC for the years 1981 to 2000. Most of the deaths for First Nations infants between the ages of one month and a year old were due to preventable causes such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and infections. The author concludes that this data “supports the need to address the difficult living conditions facing many Aboriginal families” as well as the need to assess the effectiveness of SIDS prevention information for Aboriginal communities.

A second related factsheet, Honouring our Children: Aboriginal children’s health in British Columbia, discusses the health and well-being of Aboriginal children in the province with a particular focus on the social determinants of health, health outcomes, and promising practices. Topics include access to health care, dental health, obesity and nutrition, activity, medical conditions, school attendance and performance, and family/emotions/behavior. The author notes that a growing body of literature continues to document the links between factors such as adequate food supply, housing, employment, education level and environmental exposures and Aboriginal child health status.

For example, the 2009 NCCAH study, Health Inequalities and Social Determinants of Aboriginal People’s Health, noted that, “since health is experienced over the course of one’s life, the circumstances of the physical and emotional environment impact not only children’s current health but set the groundwork for future vulnerabilities and resiliencies.”

Although gaps in data exist and there remain unjust differences for Aboriginal infant and child health measures in comparison to non-Aboriginal infants and children, strides are being made towards improvements. These two NCCAH fact sheets provide insight into these complex issues within the specific context of British Columbia.