Largest-ever study published on First Nations food security and environment

The University of Ottawa, the University of Montreal and the Assembly of First Nations are pleased to announce the newly published First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES) in the Canadian Journal of Public Health. Mandated by First Nations leadership across Canada through Assembly of First Nations Resolution 30 / 2007 and realized through a unique collaboration with researchers and communities, the First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study is the first national study of its kind. It was led by principal investigators Dr. Laurie Chan, a professor and Canada Research Chair in Toxicology and Environmental Health at the University of Ottawa, Dr. Tonio Sadik, Senior Director of Environment, Lands & Water at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), and Dr. Malek Batal, a professor of Nutrition and Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Health Inequalities from the University of Montreal.

Among other things, the study highlights the successful partnership between First Nations peoples across Canada and academia. The FNFNES team worked closely with nearly 100 participating First Nations, demonstrating how good partnerships can produce information that is both scientifically robust and meaningful for communities.

A set of articles published yesterday in the Canadian Journal of Public Health present key outcomes, drawing a remarkable picture of the diets of First Nations along with a suite of environmental factors that impact food and water, in and around communities.

Key findings

The study highlights that traditional food systems remain foundational to the health and well-being of First Nations and that traditional food is of superior quality to store-bought food. The majority of traditional foods were found to be very safe and extremely healthy to consume, but that access to these foods does not meet current needs due to continuing environmental degradation, as well as socioeconomic, systemic, and regulatory barriers.

In fact, many First Nations face the challenge of extremely high rates of food insecurity—3-5 times higher than the Canadian population overall—and the current diet of many First Nations adults is nutritionally inadequate.

The study also found that long-standing problems with water treatment systems in many First Nations, particularly exceedances for metals that affect color and taste, limit the acceptability and use of tap water for drinking.

Studies like FNFNES can support First Nations to help make informed decisions about nutrition, the environment and environmental stewardship, and can lead to further research and advocacy with respect to safeguarding First Nations’ rights and jurisdiction. FNFNES results also provide a baseline from which to measure environmental changes expected to take place over time.