According to researchers at the University of Alberta, 65 percent of Cree preschoolers in the region are overweight or obese.
Published in the February 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, the study reveals disproportionately high levels of obesity among First Nations, Inuit and Métis children.
Dr Noreen Willows and her colleagues also studied obesity levels in Cree schoolchildren aged 9 to 12 living in two Cree Nations north of Montreal. The researchers measured height, body mass, waist circumference and skinfold thickness, and also assessed the children's levels of physical activity and physical fitness.
The results from one community, published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, indicated of the 82 participating children, 33 per cent were overweight and 38 per cent were obese.
"High waist circumferences were of particular concern, as this measure is often linked to the development of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes," said the researchers.
"Further study is needed to identify the causes behind the high obesity rates, but in general, the elementary school students exhibited very low levels of physical fitness and physical activity. Diet is another obvious possibility to consider."
According to results from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) published in 2004, obesity rates among the general population of Canada have increased substantially during the past 25 years.
In 1978/79, 3 percent of children aged 2 to 17 were obese. By 2004, 8 percent, or an estimated 500,000 children, were obese. Among adults, the growth in obesity was even more dramatic. In 1978/79, the age-adjusted adult obesity rate was 14 percent. A quarter century later, 5.5 million individuals, representing 23 percent of adults, were obese.
In February this year, Health Canada updated the country's food guide for the first time in over a decade to provide the "best, most current information available for eating well and living healthy," according to Canada's health minister Tony Clement.
The new Food Guide was developed after consultation with over 7,000 nutrition experts, including dietitians, scientists, doctors and researchers.
The dietary guidelines encourage Canadians to focus on vegetables, fruit and whole grains; to include milk, meat and their alternatives; and to limit foods that are high in calories, fat, sugar and salt.
The University of Alberta research, which is ongoing, comes at the same time as the governement's announcement of a new version of the Canada Food Guide aimed at First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.