Media Release

Indigenous Children’s Health Report Highlights Disparities in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand

Ottawa, March 30, 2009

Indigenous children in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand experience higher rates of infant mortality, child injury, accidental death as well as a host of other health ailments compared to non-Indigenous children according to a new report released today by the Centre for Research on Inner City Health. One of the first international reports of its kind, the study by Dr. Janet Smylie provides insight into common issues affecting Indigenous children’s health around the world.

Indigenous Children’s Health Report: Health Assessment in Action is an international research project that summarizes health data on indigenous children from Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The study was led by Dr. Smylie at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health, part of the Keenan Research Centre at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital. In Canada, it looks at First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children’s health status and assessment.

In all four countries, researchers found Indigenous children suffered from infant mortality rates up to four times the national average, higher rates of sudden infant death syndrome, child injury, suicide, and accidental death. Indigenous children also experience a disproportionate amount of ear infections, respiratory illnesses and dental problems.

“Until now, there has been no comprehensive data source on Indigenous child health in Canada – the data is flawed and incomplete,” explained Dr. Smylie. “It is our hope that the health information from this report will be used to help develop strong policies and programs to improve Indigenous children’s health. We would like to see this research help to create positive change and start the discussion on how to make the future better for all Indigenous children.”

Among the report’s Canadian findings:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome rates for First Nations with status in British Columbia and Inuit in Nunavik are three to 12 times higher than non-First Nations and/or non-Inuit rates respectively.
  • The obesity rate for First Nations children living on reserve is 36 per cent, compared to eight per cent for Canadian children overall.
  • Vital registration, health care utilization, and surveillance data are nearly non-existent for First Nations without status, Métis, and urban Aboriginal children.

“The health disparities we encountered are clearly tied to social issues that disproportionately affect Aboriginal children,” said Dr. Smylie. “Approximately one-third of Aboriginal children come from low-income households and food-security is a serious concern. Poor water quality and substandard, overcrowded housing also contribute to health problems.”

Global Perspective on Indigenous Children’s Health

The report compared Indigenous to Non-Indigenous children from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States and found similar disparities.

“There is no medical reason why such genetically-diverse Indigenous groups would suffer from similar health issues,” said Dr. Smylie. “But there are similar social issues in all four countries that impact health.”

Social issues shared among countries included:

  • The identification of colonization as a shared and underlying determinant of Indigenous health.
  • Disparate numbers of Indigenous children live below the poverty line and/or in overcrowded accommodation impacting their health.
  • Differential access to healthcare, economic and social resources for Indigenous children and their families compared to non-Indigenous populations.

The Centre for Research on Inner City Health (CRICH) is Canada’s only hospital-based research organization focused on the health consequences of urban life and social inequality. Across a range of health conditions and in spite of universal health care policies, marginalized populations are at greatest risk of illness and experience greatest unmet need for health care services. CRICH generates scientific evidence and tools to address these health care barriers and design effective interventions to reduce health disparities. CRICH is part of the Keenan Research Centre at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital.

Additional Information

Download full report (10.7 MB PDF file)

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