A new Statistics Canada study finds that close ties with extended family and higher levels of education are key social determinants to good health for Inuit, while poor housing conditions and difficulty accessing health care contribute to reports of poor health.
The study, titled Assessing the social determinants of self-reported Inuit health in Inuit Nunangat, is based on the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey. It surveyed over 2,900 Inuit aged 15 to 54 years in Nunavut, the northern Northwest Territories, Quebec, and Labrador.
"Inuit with strong extended family ties within their community were more likely to report excellent or very good health, as were those who had completed post secondary school," said Thomas Anderson, one of the study's authors.
Among Inuit aged 15 to 24, more than 55 per cent of those with strong or very strong ties to extended family reported excellent or very good health. That's compared to 43 per cent of those with moderate, weak or very weak family connections.
The same was true for older Inuit between the ages of 25 to 54. Forty-two per cent of those with strong or very strong family ties said they were in excellent or very good health, in comparison to 34 per cent of those with weaker family relations.
Achieving higher education was also associated with excellent or very good self-reported health for both age groups. Just over 6 in 10 young Inuit between the ages of 15 to 24 who completed a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree had excellent or very good health.
This was significantly higher than the 41 per cent for those who had not completed high school.
Among 25 to 54 year olds, 46 per cent of those with post-secondary education had excellent or very good health compared to about one-third of those who did not have a high school diploma.
"The more that you feel that you're contributing to your community, the better that you feel about yourself," said Maatalii Okalik, the president of the National Inuit Youth Council.
Okalik added that when looking at the connection between higher education and health it becomes imperative to remove any barriers for Inuit youth to achieving their education goals.
Poor housing tied to poor health
"Housing seemed to have an effect for both age groups, but it was a different variable in each case," said Anderson. "For younger Inuit it seemed to be household crowding, which is defined as more than one person per room."
Only 46 per cent of Inuit aged 15 to 24 who live in a crowded home reported being in excellent or very good health, compared to 54 per cent of those who did not live in crowded homes.
For older Inuit it was living in a home in need of major repair.
"Those who live in a dwelling where major repairs were needed were less likely to be in excellent or good health," said Anderson.
Okalik explained that at the last meeting of the National Inuit Youth Council, the group heard of one young person who was living in a three-bedroom house with 14 people.
"Housing is imperative to a healthy lifestyle," said Okalik. "If there's overcrowded housing, it limits the ability for youth to sleep well, eat well, have a place to do homework."
Okalik added that federal funding is desperately needed to improve Nunavut's housing crisis, because poor housing can lead to serious health issues, including tuberculosis.