Nutrition comes at a high cost in Nunavut

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If the old adage is true that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, that will cost you $1.50 daily in Taloyoak.

This photo of asparagus selling for $32.99/kilogram at the Iqaluit Northmart resulted in plenty of disgust and outrage on social media in late January. Taloyoak Mayor Chuck Pizzo-Lyall saw it online and called it “ridiculous.” photo courtesy of Tatanniq Idlout

“That’s brutal,” Mayor Chuck Pizzo-Lyall said of “very expensive” fruit and vegetables in Taloyoak.

With a high unemployment rate in the community, “there’s only so much you can buy with social assistance up here,” he said.

According to Food Banks Canada, the monthly cost to feed a family of four in Taloyoak is $1,846. In Ottawa, it would cost $868.

Many Nunavummiut stretch their dollars by stocking up on cheaper meals and snacks, but those foods are often packed with high calories, fat, sugar and sodium.

The impact that consumption is having on people’s weight hasn’t been tracked territorially since Statistic Canada last released related data in 2007. At that time, the figures showed that approximately 34 per cent of Nunavummiut over age 18 were categorized as overweight. Another 33 per cent were deemed obese, based on the body mass index scale.

Nunavummiut are encouraged to choose a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and regular exercise, said territorial nutritionist Allison MacRury, with the Department of Health.

Regular exercise should consist of 60 minutes of daily activity for children and 150 minutes spread throughout the week for adults, she advised.

“A healthy lifestyle is extremely important for children as childhood obesity affects growth and development and contributes to long-term health problems,” MacRury stated. “It also can have a negative effect on children’s self-esteem and mental health.”

Obesity also increases the risk of developing a wide range of diseases and conditions such as type-two diabetes, heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer, she noted.

Healthy diets should be relatively low in fats and sugars derived from processed foods while increasing the consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts, according to MacRury. The Nunavut Food Guide, available through the Department of Health, offers pointers.

The Nunavut Department of Health stated that it’s working with the Nunavut Food Security Coalition to advocate for continued improvements to the Nutrition North program, which is intended to make food more affordable for Nunavummiut.

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last May showed that food insecurity in Nunavut’s 10 largest communities rose by 13.5 per cent during the transition to Nutrition North Canada, which provides subsidies to retailers. The former Food Mail Program offered subsidies for shipping via Canada Post.

Last August, the federal government added an additional $1 per kilogram subsidy on non-perishable goods transported by sealift, such as macaroni, flour and butter.

MacRury added that the Department of Health supports and promotes country foods and a traditional diet as healthy choices.

Pizzo-Lyall said caribou, a favourite food among Taloyoak residents, is most abundant when the animals migrate through the Taloyoak area in late May or early June and again in late October.

The community is fortunate to have a community freezer that was upgraded a couple of years ago, the mayor said.

“That’s a good initiative we have here for our hunters,” he said. “There’s compartments (in the freezer) so people won’t have missing country meat and stuff like that.”

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