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International polar year

Health check-up

IPY projects are giving Northerners the chance to learn more about their most pressing health concerns.

More First Nations and Inuit children are being born healthy and living longer than ever before. Now the harsh reality: despite gains in health outcomes, significant gaps remain in the overall health status of Aboriginal people compared to other Canadians. Aboriginal people are more likely to experience a stroke, suffer from respiratory diseases and various cancers, and contract infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis.

International Polar Year (IPY) 2007-2008 supported a number of human health studies designed to offer invaluable insights into the most pressing health concerns of Northerners. The largest was the Inuit Health Survey which undertook detailed health examinations of more than 2,500 residents in 37 Inuit communities – the most comprehensive study of Inuit health ever undertaken. Other health research projects are looking into critical issues such as the human papillomavirus, hepatitis B and respiratory infections in children.

Some health issues among Aboriginal people can be traced to changes in their diet. Residents are moving from a diet dominated by “country food” – consisting primarily of local fish and game caught by hunters – to greater dependence on highly processed, store-bought commodities. The impact of this dietary transition is being studied by IPY researchers.

For many of the human health studies, the people directly affected are involved in the research process, helping to set and implement projects and assessing the results. Wildlife sampling programs have also been established across the North, with local laboratories analyzing and communicating results to Northerners. Climate change is bringing changes in wildlife patterns and diseases, so developing local monitoring capacity is essential to ensure the safety of country foods.

The result of all this IPY research activity is that Northerners will have more information to assist with establishing health policies and programs – to deal with disparities between health outcomes of Northerners and other Canadians and to meet emerging problems such diabetes and cardiovascular disease head on.


This video describes the Inuit Health Survey that was conducted during IPY. It showcases some of the work that was required to obtain a comprehensible perspective of the Inuit people’s habitat, and uncover some of the potential solutions for recurring health problems within the community.


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Quiz :

Which atmospheric agent vanishes every spring in the Arctic?

Carbon dioxide