Statistics Canada has cooperated with Health Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to produce a set of standard health indicators based on vital statistics collected in the four sub-regions of Inuit Nunangat.1 These indicators, especially changes in mortality and life expectancy, tell us much about health conditions for the Inuit population in Canada’s north.
In any population the number of low-birth-weight babies is a key indicator of maternal health, the availability of health services, and the quality of maternal care provided in a community. For the 2004 to 2008 period, the rates for low-birth-weight births in Inuit Nunangat were significantly higher than for Canada as a whole. In Canada the rate was 6.0 low birth-weight-babies per 100 births, while in Inuit Nunangat the rate was 7.0 low-birth-weight babies per 100 births.
The infant mortality rate in Inuit Nunangat varies from one sub-region to another and is significantly higher in the region as a whole than for the rest of Canada. For the 2004 to 2008 period, the infant mortality rate in Inuit Nunangat was 14.9 per 1,000 live births, compared with a rate in the rest of Canada of 5.2 per 1,000 live births.
Age-standardized mortality rates (ASMR) for Inuit Nunangat highlight some key differences between the region and the rest of Canada (Table 1). The mortality rates for Inuit Nunangat are much higher than for Canada as a whole, even when accounting for the different population structures (Figure 1). For the 2004 to 2008 period, the ASMR for Canada was 179.6 deaths per 100,000 people. In comparison, the rate for Inuit Nunangat was 430.6 deaths per 100,000. At 525.0 deaths per 100,000, males in Inuit Nunangat had a higher ASMR than females, whose mortality rate was 335.1 deaths per 100,000.
Mortality by Cause
The mortality rates for cancers in Inuit Nunangat are more than double the rates in the rest of Canada, particularly for colorectal and lung cancers. In fact, lung cancer rates for the Inuit in Canada are the highest in the world. Smoking is a major contributing factor.2 In recent health surveys more than half of Inuit adults were found to smoke on a daily basis (58%), which is over three times the rate for all adults in Canada,3 (Figure 2). Smoking is related to a multitude of adverse health outcomes, some of which are already present to a larger extent for the population in Inuit Nunangat than for the general Canadian population.
Large differences in life expectancy exist between the population in Inuit Nunangat and the population in the rest of Canada (Table 2).4Over the last 30 years the differences in life expectancy between the two populations have been increasing for both males and females. For the 1989 to 1993 period, the life expectancy gap between the two populations was 7.7 years for males and 9.1 years for females. By the 1999 to 2003 period, this gap had increased to 11.9 years for both males and females.
For males in the 1999 to 2003 period, the largest contributors to lower life expectancy were suicide and self-inflicted injury, which accounted for nearly half (4.8 years) of the difference in life expectancy. For females, the largest contributors to the difference were cancers (3.8 years), respiratory diseases (3.4 years), and circulatory diseases (1.7 years).
Life expectancy of Inuit Nunangat residents was similar to that of indigenous people in other countries and regions (Table 3).4
In particular, life expectancy for both males and females was similar to that of Greenland residents, who are largely Inuit, and to Alaska natives (only 47% of whom are Inuit). New Zealand Māori and Australian Indigenous people have slightly higher life expectancy than Inuit Nunangat resident.
- 1. Statistics Canada. Health indicators for the Nunangat Region, 2004-2006. Accessed 31 May 2013. www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/121210/dq121210c-eng.htm.
- 2. Circumpolar Inuit Cancer Review Working Group. Cancer among the circumpolar Inuit, 1989-2003: II. Patterns and trends. Int J Circumpolar Health. 2008; 67(5):408-420.
- 3. Statistics Canada. Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada; 2005.
- 4. a. b. Wilkins R, Uppal S, Finès P, et al. Life expectancy in the Inuit-inhabited areas of Canada, 1989-2003. Health Rep. 2008 Jan;19(1):7-30.