Dietary habits of Aboriginal children
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by Kellie A. Langlois, Leanne C. Findlay and Dafna E. Kohen
Considerable attention has been devoted to the health of Aboriginal children,1-3 but relatively little is known about their nutrition. The Health Canada publication, Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide – First Nations, Inuit and Métis (CFG),4 offers guidelines that include foods considered traditional or country among Aboriginal people, such as bannock and wild game. Based on the results of Statistics Canada’s 2006 Aboriginal Children’s Survey (ACS), this article presents an overview of the frequency with which First Nations children living off reserve, Métis children and Inuit children aged 2 to 5 consume various types of food (see The data).
Major food groups
The CFG4 recommends that, every day, children aged 2 to 5 consume a minimum (depending on age) of two to four servings of milk and alternatives, one to two servings of meat and alternatives, four to six servings of fruit and vegetables, and three to six servings of grain products. Rather than the number of servings, the ACS asked the parent/guardian how frequently the child consumed various types of food. While consumption frequency is not equivalent to servings, the ACS results do indicate the nature of dietary intake among Aboriginal children.
According to parent/guardian reports, 96% of First Nations children living off reserve and Métis children consumed milk/milk products at least once a day (Table 1). About 80% of First Nations children living off reserve and Métis children ate meat, fish or eggs at least once a day. Close to 90% of First Nations children living off reserve and Métis children consumed fruit at least once a day, and more than 80% consumed vegetables at least once a day.
For Inuit 2- to 5-year-olds, the frequency of consumption of items from these food groups was different. About 86% of Inuit children consumed milk/milk products at least once a day. Two-thirds of Inuit children ate meat, fish or eggs at least once a day. Almost 70% of Inuit children had fruit at least once a day, and 52% had vegetables at least once a day; 14% did not eat vegetables (data not shown).
Two other studies have examined the diet of Aboriginal children in Canada.5,6 Preliminary results for First Nations children from the 2007/2008 Regional Health Survey suggest that 60% consume milk, 37% consume protein, 35% consume vegetables, and 49% consume fruit several times a day.5
According to results of the Inuit Child Health Survey,6 the percentages of Inuit children aged 3 to 5 living in Nunavut who met or exceeded the CFG recommendations were 24% for milk, 97% for meat, and 9% for fruit and vegetables. Differences from the ACS findings may reflect survey methodology. Information for the Nunavut study was collected via a 24-hour dietary recall, which is a more thorough assessment of food intake. The Nunavut study also included a measure of portion (serving) size and a more extensive list of items within each food group.
Little information is available to compare ACS findings with food consumption among other children in Canada. A Quebec study found that 48% of 4-year-olds met the CFG recommendation for milk; 39% met the recommendation for meat; and 17% met the recommendation for fruit and vegetables.7 Among a national sample of slightly older children (ages 4 to 8), fewer than two-thirds met the recommendation for milk; 77% for meat; and 29% for fruit and vegetables.8 These two studies were also based on 24-hour dietary recalls.
Approximately two-thirds of Aboriginal 2- to 5-year-olds consumed fast food and processed foods at least once a week (Table 1); 11% of First Nations children living off reserve, 9% of Métis children, and 24% of Inuit children consumed these foods daily (data not shown). Conversely, 7% of First Nations children living off reserve, 5% of Métis children and 14% of Inuit children were reported by their parent/guardian as never eating fast food and processed foods. More than half of Aboriginal children drank soft drinks or juice at least twice a day, and had salty snacks/sweets/desserts at least once a day.
Traditional or country foods
Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide – First Nations, Inuit and Métis4 gives traditional or country foods as examples of items in some food groups; for instance, “traditional meats and wild game” is among the examples for “meat and alternatives.” According to the 2006 ACS, traditional or country foods were consumed by 70% of First Nations children living off reserve, 62% of Métis children, and 90% of Inuit children (Table 2).
A quarter of First Nations children living off reserve had bannock or fry bread at least once a week, as did 15% of Métis children. Very few (less than 5%) ate bannock or fry bread every day; in fact, 46% of First Nations children living off reserve and 60% of Métis children did not eat bannock or fry bread at all. Salt and fresh water fish were consumed at least once a month by 39% of First Nations children living off reserve and 37% of Métis children. As well, 33% of First Nations children living off reserve ate large game animals at least once a month, as did 28% of Métis children. The percentages who consumed game birds and small game animals on a monthly basis were lower: 8% and 5%, respectively, for First Nations children living off reserve, and 8% and 4%, respectively, for Métis children. Virtually no First Nations children living off reserve or Métis children were reported as consuming sea-based mammals.
Relatively high percentages of Inuit children were regular consumers of traditional or country foods. A quarter of Inuit children ate bannock or fry bread every day, and for 60%, consumption was at least weekly. At least once a month, 76% of Inuit children had large game animals, and 68% had salt and fresh water fish. A third of them ate game birds once a month or more, but monthly consumption of small game animals was reported for only 6%. More than half of Inuit children consumed sea-based mammals; one-quarter did so at least once a week (data not shown).
Few other studies have examined traditional or country food consumption among Aboriginal children. The Inuit Child Health Survey found that 99% of Inuit preschoolers living in Nunavut were reported to have eaten traditional foods in the past month, and 46% in the past day.5
Researchers have noted that the dietary habits of Aboriginal children, particularly those living in remote communities, may be influenced by the accessibility and availability of foods such as fruit and vegetables.13,14
An examination of consumption patterns of First Nations children living off reserve and Métis children revealed few differences between those who lived in a Census Metropolitan Area /Census Agglomeration (CMA/CA) versus those who did not (data not shown). However, Inuit children who lived in a CMA/CA (15.8% of the sample) were more likely than those not living in a CMA/CA to consume milk/milk products at least twice a day; to eat fish, eggs or meat at least once a day; and to consume fruit or vegetables three or more times per day. They were also less likely to have soft drinks and juice at least twice a day.
All types of traditional or country foods were less likely to be consumed by Aboriginal children living in a CMA/CA, compared with those not living in a CMA/CA.
According to the 2006 ACS, the frequency with which First Nations children living off reserve and Métis children consumed items from major food groups tended to be similar. While lower percentages of Inuit children were reported to regularly consume items from these food groups, relatively high percentages consumed traditional or country foods. Around two-thirds of all Aboriginal children ate fast food and processed foods at least once a week, and just over half had salty snacks, sweets and desserts at least once a day. The frequency of consumption of various foods differed, depending on whether children lived in a CMA/CA.
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