A program that helped people in Canada's North eat healthier foods is closing down because its government funding has dried up.
Started by University of Alberta health researcher Sangita Sharma in 2008, Healthy Foods North went to grocery stores in four remote Northwest Territories and Nunavut communities — where the costs of transporting groceries can be very high — and showed people how to read food labels and keep track of how much they eat.
The program also trained local people, such as those at the youth centre in Inuvik, N.W.T., to cook and eat traditional foods such as fish and caribou and cut back on the junk food they eat.
"We're losing a great community resource," Megan Hames, the youth centre's co-ordinator, told CBC News on Tuesday. "They've often helped us with recipes and our healthy lunch program."
Healthy Foods North was also in place in Tukoyaktuk, N.W.T., and in the Nunavut communities of Cambridge Bay and Taloyoak.
But the program's funding, which came from various sources including the federal and N.W.T. governments, is expiring this year. N.W.T. officials have indicated they have no plans to continue or replace the program.
Trying to secure more funds
Sharma, who teaches aboriginal health at the Edmonton university, said she had been working toward having northerners run the Health Foods North program themselves.
"We built partnerships and worked with the retailers and built capacity. We trained local people, we had people implementing that program," Sharma said.
"Now I'm just trying to get some more funding," she added.
Sharma said a preliminary study of 700 participants in Healthy Foods North showed that the program was working and people's eating habits were starting to improve.
"Energy from protein increased two per cent, carbohydrates decreased 12 per cent, cholesterol decreased 20 per cent, unhealthy drinks decreased by 27 per cent," she said, adding that saturated fat and sugar consumption were also going down.
Sharma said she plans to take what has been learned at Healthy Foods North and create a website aimed at improving aboriginal health across Canada.