Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the distinguished member for Calgary Centre-North who tells me that her home is referred to as awesomeness.
I am glad to rise in the House today to join my colleagues in this important debate. I am here to speak to what our government is doing to ensure that first nations and Inuit receive the nutrition they need to lead healthy lives.
We recognize the link between access to healthy food and the promotion of health, well-being and the prevention of chronic disease. One of the reasons we are modernizing our food regulations is to keep up with the needs of Canadians. The changes put forward will not only help our government maintain a high level of scientific rigour but they will allow decisions to be implemented faster, cutting red tape and delays for the approval process in providing Canadians with safe products. They will help our government respond more quickly to the pace of change in science and innovation and play its role in continuing to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
These changes will not just help all in Canada but will specifically be of benefit to first nations people and Inuit. We are making strategic investments to promote nutrition and improved access to healthy foods in first nations and Inuit communities.
Food security is linked to a variety of factors, and meeting these challenges requires the contributions of multiple sectors working together. Our government is working with aboriginal partners, provincial and territorial governments, and other sectors to look at how to best address these factors and help improve food security.
With an annual investment of $60 million, the nutrition north Canada program is one response to the complex issues facing the challenge of healthier foods for northerners. The program provides a retail subsidy that helps northerners living in isolated communities access healthy food at lower cost. The program focuses the subsidy on perishable healthy foods that have to be flown into isolated northern communities all year round.
I remember two years ago when the health committee, of which I am a member, toured Nunavut and looked at some of the health challenges. The cost of perishable goods was enormous in some of these isolated northern communities. Obviously, this is something the federal government assists with and it is a very important issue that we are addressing.
Preliminary program data demonstrates that nutrition north Canada is supporting improved access to healthier foods for northerners. Between April 1 and September 30, 2011, more than 80% of the subsidy went toward healthy foods, such as produce, milk and dairy products, meat and alternatives, and grain products.
As part of the nutrition north Canada program, Health Canada receives $2.9 million annually to support culturally appropriate retail and community-based nutrition education initiatives. These activities increase the knowledge of healthy living and eating habits, develops skills for selecting and preparing both healthy store-bought foods and country foods, and strengthens retail community partnerships.
Community activities include the promotion of healthy foods, cooking skill classes, school-based projects, in-store taste tests and grocery store tours. Health Canada has also supported communities with planning, training and developing partnerships with local stores and other community partners.
Early success is reported for the nutrition education initiatives 2011-12, which include stronger linkages with local stores, stronger nutrition and healthy eating education, cooking skills development and coordination with other community programs. Over 300 community-based activities were offered in 2011-12 and over 50 community workers were trained.
The nutrition north Canada program also subsidizes country or traditional foods when available through local stores or when bought from processing plants that are registered with the program. Even though this is a first step for nutrition north Canada, it shows that the government recognizes the importance of country foods to the health and well-being of first nations and Inuit.
A healthy way of eating that includes traditional or country food has been associated with lower levels of heart disease and diabetes. These foods contain less fat and sugar than many store-bought foods and contribute important nutrients needed for good health. Other benefits of traditional food include physical activity during harvesting and have cultural and spiritual significance.
Our government also recognizes the importance of quality nutrition in enabling children to reach their fullest developmental and lifetime potential. We are working with first nations leaders, other levels of government, partners and stakeholders to ensure access to high quality health programs that promote a healthy start in life for first nations and Inuit children.
Maternal and child health programs, like those supported by Health Canada, have been shown to have a positive effect on the physical, psychological and social development of all family members.
The aboriginal head start on reserve is one of the programs supporting the healthy growth of approximately 9,000 first nations children and their families living in over 300 first nations communities across Canada by funding community-based early childhood intervention programming that addresses the developmental needs of children from birth to six years of age. Health Canada's aboriginal head start program promotes the health and wellness of first nations children and their families through culture, language, social support, education and parental involvement programming, health promotion and nutrition.
In the aboriginal head start program, children learn how to make healthy food choices through snack programs or meals using Canada's food guide. They may go on field trips with staff, parents and other family members and participate in traditional food-gathering activities.
The maternal child health program supports home visiting by nurses and family visitors for first nation pregnant women and families with young children.
Health Canada is helping to address factors that impact maternal and infant mortality in first nations and Inuit communities by providing information on maternal nutrition and supporting the programs that aim to promote healthier lifestyles and behaviours, such as the reduction of smoking. The program also helps by increasing access to quality prenatal care and regulated birth attendants. The maternal child health program provides a co-ordinated approach to maternal and child health services with strong links to elders, nursing and other community-based programs.
Together with the maternal child program, the Canada prenatal nutrition program is working to improve the adequacy of the diet of prenatal and breastfeeding women; increased access to nutrition information services and resources to eligible women, particularly those at high risk; increased breastfeeding support; and increased knowledge and skill-building opportunities in maternal and infant nutritional health programs among those involved in this program.
The brighter futures program provides funding to first nations and Inuit communities for activities supporting improved physical and mental health, child development, parenting skills and healthy babies. Funding facilitates community-directed and designed programming that addresses local priorities. As such, communities may choose to use the funding to promote linkages among social and health programs, including education, health, child and family, and provincial systems.
With the goal of supporting healthy childhood development and overall mental health, communities may choose to use brighter futures funding to support activities such as in-school breakfast programs, traditional food cooking classes and healthy eating and nutrition workshops.
Through these programs, this government is also supporting the work to address the challenge of childhood obesity. This issue is of particular concern for aboriginal children and youth as rates of obesity are significantly higher among this group than among the general Canadian population, and aboriginal children are becoming obese at a very young age. Obesity is strongly linked to high rates of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. First nations people are three to five times more likely to experience type 2 diabetes than non-aboriginal Canadians.
Since 1999, the aboriginal diabetes initiative's main objective is to reduce type 2 diabetes by supporting health promotion and disease prevention, including healthy eating and active living, through activities and services delivered by trained community health workers and health care providers. More than 600 first nations and Inuit communities have access to health promotion and diabetes prevention activities through the aboriginal diabetes initiative.
I hope I have helped to inform this important discussion today by outlining the efforts and partnerships that our government is undertaking to build healthier first nations and Inuit communities. The issues I have outlined today point to the needs that we as a government must focus on and work together with first nations and Inuit leaders and provincial and territorial partners to support first nations and Inuit communities in having the healthiest lifestyle possible.