Overview of Inuit Health

Assessing the health of Inuit is not an easy task. Reporting on health status is difficult due to a lack of comprehensive and comparable information and data. This results in an incomplete picture of Inuit health status.

Furthermore, health does not exist in a vacuum. Socio-economic status, housing, employment, educational attainment and other factors all have an impact on one’s health and well-being.

Inuit Tuttarvingat recognizes the importance of addressing mental, physical, cultural, and spiritual elements of health and well-being.

Photo © National Aboriginal Health Organization 2007

Looking at the information that is available, we see that Inuit suffer poorer health than the rest of Canadians. For instance:

  • The average lifespan for Inuit women is 14 years less than that of the average Canadian woman. [1]
  • Suicide rates in Nunavut are six times the national average.
  • Tuberculosis rates are 70 times the Canadian average.[2]
  • The 2001 Aboriginal Peoples Survey found that 53 per cent of Inuit live in overcrowded housing. Furthermore, 33 per cent of Inuit households are in need of core housing, almost double the Canadian rate of 18 per cent.
  • 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.[3]
  • Educational attainment among Inuit is lower than that of southern mainstream Canada. Whereas 33 per cent of non-Aboriginal Canadians do not hold any level of post-secondary education, for Inuit the rate is double at 66 per cent. [4]
  • The unemployment rate among Inuit is more than three times the Canadian average of seven per cent, at 22 per cent. [5]
  • Environmental concerns, such as contaminants and climate change, are having a disproportionately high impact on Inuit.
  • On most indicators where there is health data available for Inuit, Inuit fare far worse than not only their non-Aboriginal Canadian counterparts, but their First Nations and Métis counterparts as well.

Knowledge, wellness and community

The words “knowledge wellness community” speak to the Inuit Tuttarvingat’s focus in the area of Inuit health.

Knowledge

We need solid Inuit-specific knowledge, or evidence, to develop policies, programs and services that meet the needs of Inuit individuals, families and communities. The Ajunnginiq Centre works closely with other Inuit organizations to develop knowledge and knowledge-based activities that can be used to advocate for improved conditions to support Inuit health and wellness.

Wellness

The Ajunnginiq Centre recognizes the importance of addressing mental, physical, cultural, and spiritual elements of health and well-being. Supporting our culture, language, environment, traditional foods and activities are central to achieving health status comparable to the general Canadian population.

Community

Addressing the broader determinants of health, such as housing, economic development and self-determination, is a key element of achieving improvements in Inuit health and wellness. Inuit-specific solutions must be firmly rooted in our cultural values and practices while integrating the best evidence and practices from other systems. Our commitment to Inuit values also means we address these complex issues within the context of families and communities.

References:

1. Statistics Canada, The Daily Monday. September 27, 2004.

2. Canadian Institute for Health Information, Improving the Health of Canadians. 2004.

3. Food Mail Pilot Project, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, cited in Hunger in the Arctic: Food (In)Security Issues in Inuit Communities. Prepared for the Ajunnginiq Centre at the National Aboriginal Health Organization. 2004.

4. Canadian Institute for Health Information, Improving the Health of Canadians. 2004.

5. Canadian Institute for Health Information, Improving the Health of Canadians. 2004.