Decade-long, mega-study finds barriers to access to healthy traditional foods are eroding food security for First Nations

(OTTAWA, ON) Today, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the University of Ottawa, and Université de Montréal released the draft results of the First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study (FNFNES). The FNFNES presents, for the first time, a body of evi­dence on the importance of traditional foods in the diet of First Nations and the impacts of environ­mental degradation such as chemical contaminants and climate change on First Nations citizens and communities and their ability to access these healthy foods.

The FNFNES reveals that between 24-60% of First Nations experience food insecurity, which is three to five times higher than the general Canadian population.  Food insecurity and malnutrition have a significant impact on the overall health of First Nations citizens. The study also recommends actions to address the situation.

The FNFNES was a decade-long investigation, funded and supported by the Government of Canada, into First Nations diets and food-related exposures to environmental pollutants. Using an ecozone sampling framework, the FNFNES gathered information from 92 randomly selected First Nations from all regions of Canada south of the 60thparallel, and asked participants a range of questions dealing with traditional and store-bought food use, and food security. The FNFNES also studied nutrient values and environmental chemical hazards in traditional foods, heavy metals and pharmaceutical metabolites in drinking and surface water, and mercury levels in hair.

The tabling of these results to First Nations who participated in the study marks the process of wrapping-up the FNFNES, but also to new beginnings, as this research points to other areas that need further study. The core partners of the FNFNES are launching another multi-year research project called the Food, Environment, Health and Nutrition of First Nations Children and Youth (FEHNCY) study. Like the FNFNES, this new study is being funded by Indigenous Services Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.


“The impacts of Climate Change and industry are eroding the land’s ability to provide healthy foods for too many of our people. It is important that food insecurity be addressed, the cost of nutritious food be lowered, and the impacts of industry be assessed. First Nations have long been caretakers of these lands and these lands have taken care of us. First Nations must play a role in this work.  We know that maintaining a healthy environment must include action on climate change and pollution.”

– Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations National Chief

“We are happy to have worked with so many First Nations partners across the country to complete this monumental study over the last 10 years. The results clearly show the need for continuing support and engagement to promote nutrition and environmental health of First Nations. FNFNES serves as a platform to encourage innovative program development at the local and regional levels. Lessons learned from FNFNES will be carried forward to a new study focusing on children and youth.”

– Principal Investigator, Dr. Laurie Chan, University of Ottawa

“What we have found is a food system that is utterly failing First Nations in this country. There are important barriers between the people and their healthy traditional food and the prevailing food system with the high prices of market food and limited availability and access is translating into scandalously high rates of food insecurity and equally high rates of chronic diseases and their risk factors such as obesity and diabetes. It is urgent to promote systemic change in the food environment and foster food sovereignty if we want to address the great health inequalities suffered by First Nations, particularly in this case, the nutrition-related health problems.”

– Dr. Malek Batal, Université de Montréal