65 per cent of Cree preschoolers in northern Quebec overweight or obese

Childhood obesity is increasing among the general population in Canada, but the statistics are even more alarming among First Nations, Inuit and Métis children.

In a study published recently in the American Journal of Public Health, University of Alberta researchers found that up to 65 per cent of Cree preschoolers in northern Quebec communities were overweight or obese.

Dr. Noreen Willows, a community nutritionist at the University of Alberta, and her colleagues also studied obesity levels in Cree schoolchildren aged 9 to 12 living in two Cree Nations north of Montreal, Canada. The researchers measured height, body mass, waist circumference and skinfold thickness, and also assessed the children's levels of physical activity and physical fitness. The results from one community, published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, indicated of the 82 participating children, 33 per cent were overweight and 38 per cent were obese.

High waist circumferences were of particular concern, as this measure is often linked to the development of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Further study is needed to identify the causes behind the high obesity rates, but in general, the elementary school students exhibited very low levels of physical fitness and physical activity. Diet is another obvious possibility to consider.

This University of Alberta research is ongoing, and there's no question that it is timely. The federal government has just announced the release of a new version of the Canada Food Guide aimed at First Nations, Inuit and M'tis people.

Results of this research are published in the February 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health and the September 2006 issue of the International Journal of Circumpolar Health.

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