Food Security

Health is much more than the absence of disease. A number of factors have an impact on the health of individuals and communities, including income, economic development, housing, environment, food security, education and self-determination.

When food cost and food availability are looked at through a health lens, we see that Inuit families across Canada continue to face challenges in accessing adequate nutritional food.

This is due to:

  • low income in Inuit families
  • changing dietary habits
  • high cost of food in the North
  • increasing costs of harvesting and hunting, ie: price of gas for snowmobiles
  • lack of awareness of healthy eating habits. [1]

The long-term effects of these factors on Inuit health raise a number of serious concerns for Inuit communities and the agencies that provide health care programs and services to Inuit.

Inuit Tuttarvingat (then known as Ajunnginiq Centre) gathered information on food availability and food costs in the North. This can be found in our report: Hunger in the Arctic: Food (In) Security in Inuit Communities. Inuit families continue to face challenges accessing adequate nutritional food. This is due to low income, changing dietary habits, high cost of food in the North, increased costs of hunting and harvesting, and lack of awareness of healthy eating habits.

Food Availability

In a 2003 study in Kugaaruk, Nunavut on food security, five out of six Inuit households were classified as “food insecure”. This is an issue that affects many Inuit communities. Over half of the households studied had experienced hunger in the last year. [2]

According to the Kugaaruk study, 80 per cent of Inuit women surveyed in earlier Food Mail Program projects (Pond Inlet and Repulse Bay in 1992 and 1997) said they had run out of money to buy food in the previous month. More than 60 per cent of households with children were hungry in the previous 12 months. In Labrador (now Nunatsiavut), 28 per cent of households reported that they on occasion did not have enough to eat with seven per cent stating that they often had insufficient food. [3]

While there is little information on how Inuit families cope internally with food shortages, it is common that in such households, parents (particularly mothers) will forgo meals so their children can eat.

Food Costs

Food costs in the North remain much higher than those in southern Canada. Studies of food costs at grocery stores indicate that northerners pay far more than southerners for the same basket of food:

  • for one week for a family of four, the Northern Food Basket in Kugaaruk costs $327, double that of Edmonton. Three-quarters of the families would have incomes insufficient, or nearly insufficient, to cover the cost of a healthy diet and other necessary family costs.

Community and Regional Initiatives on Food Security

Inuit communities have responded to the issue of food security through a number of initiatives:

  • Many communities have access to community freezers. Depending on the specific region and community, these freezers are operated by the hamlets or the local hunters and trappers organizations. In the case of Nunavut and Nunavik, these freezers play a critical role in providing storage facilities for community hunts.
  • In Nunavik, Makivik Corporation donates a substantial amount of money  to communities to provide food, money, and gifts to families in need. There is considerable flexibility in how these funds are used, but they are often used to produce baskets of goods to be distributed to families considered to be in need.
  • In Nunavut and Nunatsiavut community agencies—often in co-operation with church groups—provide food baskets to families in need or have set up food banks. These are often informal efforts relying on volunteers and donations.


1. Ajunnginiq Centre, Hunger in the Arctic: Food (In) Security in Inuit Communities. Ottawa. 2004.

2. Judith Lawn and Dan Harvey, Nutrition and Food Security in Kugaaruk, Nunavut. Ottawa: INAC, 2003.

3. L.L. Ladoucouer and F. Fill, Results from the Survey on Food Quality in Six Isolated Communities in Labrador. Ottawa: INAC, March 2001.

4. Judith Lawn and Dan Harvey, Nutrition and Food Security in Kugaaruk, Nunavut. Ottawa: INAC, 2003.

5. As noted in: Ajunnginiq Centre, Hunger in the Arctic: Food (In) Security in Inuit Communities. Ottawa. 2004.

You may also be interested in…

Assessment of dietary intake and physical activity in Aboriginal populations in Arctic Canada, supplementary issue of the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

Centre for Indigenous People’s Nutrition and Environment, McGill University website

Food insecurity among Inuit preschoolers: Nunavut Inuit Child Health Survey, 2007-2008 published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Food security in Nunavut: A Knowledge sharing tool for policy and decision-makers by Qaujigiartiit Arctic Health Research Network Nunavut.

Naasautit: Inuit Health Statistics food security section – Inuit-specific statistics on food harvesting, hunger, food sharing and market food

Nutrition North Canada website – describes the federal government program to make nutritious, perishable foods accessible to Canadians living in isolated northern communities (replacing the Food Mail Program.) Also contains the Nutrition North Canada Food List of items that will receive subsidy as of October 1, 2012.