Reversing the Nutrition Transition among Native North Americans

The nutritional transition is the most important issue affecting the health of indigenous peoples worldwide. It entails a change from gathered, farmed, fished, and hunted foods to industrialized energy-dense diets. This has been accompanied by population shifts from physically active to sedentary lives. Indigenous foods combined with the exercise required to procure them are strongly associated with good physical and mental health. Therefore, the introduction of policies to encourage land-based activities provides a means to reverse the negative effects of adverse nutritional transitions affecting indigenous cultures. In the United States and Canada, many indigenous groups have available lands for this purpose. Severe diet-related health problems can be tackled through more robust support for land-based activities and associated programs in experiential education, educational exchanges, and revenue-generating enterprises based on indigenous ecological literacy and knowledge. While governments, schools, charities, and businesses would be needed to affect positive changes, indigenous groups themselves would need to be the main partners.

This policy position paper was written by Dr. Colin Samson, Professor, University of Essex, Colchester, England.  It is part of the ISGP conference Equitable, Sustainable and Healthy Food Environments, convened in partnership with Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in May 2016.