Canadian Environmental Health Atlas

Understanding Our Environment is Key to Promoting Health and Preventing Disease

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Human Impact

Human Impact

The Inuit population of Canada is increasing rapidly, which creates a demand for services such as housing, health care, education, and skills training for young adults, particularly within the Inuit Nunangat region.1 From 2006 to 2011 the Inuit population grew by 18%, more than three times faster than Canada’s non-Aboriginal population. The median age for members of the Inuit population in 2011 was 23 years, about half that of general population (41 years); about one-third of Inuit were children under the age of 15 (2). While 26% of Inuit children lived in single-parent families, another 3.4% lived with a grandparent or other relative.2

Although the Inuit have traditionally lived together in extended family groupings, the rate of over-crowding is often due to a serious housing shortage in many communities rather than the result of traditional living arrangements. In 2006, 31% of Inuit lived in crowded homes compared with 3% of non-Inuit.

Extreme weather conditions in Inuit Nunangat place significant stress on building materials. The percent of Inuit who live in homes that need major repairs has increased by 12% from 19% in 1996 to 31% in 2006.3 Inadequate housing is associated with a host of health problems. Hospitalization rates for severe lower respiratory tract infections in Inuit children are amongst the highest in the world, due in large part to over-crowding.4 Poor living conditions also contribute to increased transmission of tuberculosis and hepatitis A, as well as an increased risk for injuries, mental health problems, and family tensions.256

Access to Health Care                                   
In response to a 2006 survey, 50% of Inuit adults 15 years and older rated their health as “excellent” or “very good”.7By contrast, 67% of the general Canadian population rated their health as “excellent” or “very good”. Residents of Inuit Nunangat face extraordinary challenges to access health care.8None of the 53 communities in Inuit Nunangat have year-round road access and only a few have hospitals. Most communities are served by health centres staffed by nurses. Treatment by a physician or a specialist requires either travel to an outside community or waiting for a sporadic visits by a traveling physician. These physicians must rely on infrequent flights and are often delayed by weather conditions. Access to diagnostic testing is also more limited in Inuit communities. Adding to these difficulties, many Inuit do not speak fluent English and require translation services.9

The 2006 survey found Inuit were much less likely than members of the general population to have seen or spoken with a physician in the previous 12 months. While 79% of Canadian adults in the general population had contact with a physician, only 49% of Inuit adults living in Inuit Nunangat reported contact. In comparison, nearly three-quarters (73%) of Inuit living outside of Inuit Nunangat had contact with a physician in the previous year. However, Inuit who lived within Inuit Nunangat were more likely to have had contact with a nurse in the previous year (70%) than Inuit living outside the region (39%).7

  • 1. Gionet L. Inuit in Canada: Selected findings of the 2006 Census. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada; 2008. Catalogue No. 11-008-X.
  • 2. a. b. Statistics Canada. Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada; 2013. Catalogue No.: 99-011-X2011001. 23p.
  • 3. Peters PA. Causes and contributions to differences in life expectancy for Inuit Nunangat and Canada, 1989-2003. Int J Circumpolar Health. 2010; 69(1): 38-49.
  • 4. Kovesi T, Stocco C, Fugler RD, et al. Indoor air quality and the risk of lower respiratory tract infections in young Canadian Inuit children. CMAJ. 2007 Jul;177(2):155-160.
  • 5. Health Canada. A second diagnostic on the health of First Nations and Inuit people in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Health Canada; 1999.
  • 6. Public Health Agency of Canada. Tuberculosis in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2003. Catalogue No.: HP37-5/2003.
  • 7. a. b. Statistics Canada. Aboriginal peoples survey, 2006: Inuit health and social conditions. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada; 2008a. Catalogue No.: 89-637-X-No.001. 28p.
  • 8. Romanow R. Building on values: The future of health care in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada; 2002.
  • 9. Nunavut Social Development Council. An annual report on the state of Inuit culture and society. Iqaluit, NU: Government of Nunavut; 2004.