Before my girlfriend (Jackie) began her master’s studies in Occupational Therapy, she was a research assistant with the Manitoba Institute of Child Health (MICH).
While most of MICH’s efforts are focused on kids living in Winnipeg, the group also has its sights set on understanding the hardships that kids face on reserves in northern Manitoba.
Type 2 diabetes, according to Health Canada, is a huge health concern among indigenous people. People living on reserves have a rate of diabetes three to five times higher than other Canadians. If things stay where they are now, those rates are sure to rise to levels never before seen in human history.
Jackie was privileged enough to make a handful of trips to a place called Cross Lake. She worked mostly with children and to understand why type 2 diabetes is a growing problem in aboriginal communities.
I don't think Jackie would use verb "privileged" to describe seeing the visual effects of malnutrition: rotten teeth, bad skin, and lack of focus were just a few. And those are just the visible effects. When the body isn't fueled with proper nutrients, the inside turns into a literal war zone.
Most diets consist of heavily processed meals soaked in sugar and other anti-nutritional substances. Instead of drinking milk, kids drink pop. Instead of eating fruit and vegetables, they eat candy and chips.
It’s important to allow children the opportunity to consume the odd bag of chips or handful of M&M’s, but it’s almost more important to advocate the practice of moderation.
Now, this is a problem I can imagine most urban and rural parents face. Trying to force down peas and tomatoes to a kid who only wants to eat KFC is a hard task, but overtime it gets easier.
Indigenous people on reserves have an even taller task. First off, everything is expensive. Second of all, good healthy food is even more expensive.
For example, a four-litre jug of milk retails for about three dollars. Up north, a jug of milk can cost up towards $15. A single apple can cost more than five dollars.
What this all means is that kids are stuck in a cycle of unhealthy living. They’re raised eating food with little to no nutritional value. Since they haven’t any energy to even function, learning and school is almost a waste of time. There’s no way a child hopped up on pizza pops and orange flavored soda is going to be able to sit still and retain any information in school. All of this, and we I haven’t even covered the horrendous side affects of the disease. Blindness and losing of limbs are just two that top the list.
So, where do we go from here? The scarcity of healthy and nutritious food on reserves is an issue that’s wafted for decades. Without government legislation on reducing the prices of healthy food –or even making them more readily available—the problem is just going to worsen.