Improving nutrition and health : the perspectives of First Nations youth and adults

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Isaak, Corinne Ann
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The high prevalence of obesity among Canadian First Nations youth and type 2 diabetes among First Nations adults is well documented. However, the perspectives of First Nations people, particularly adolescents, toward improving health and preventing diabetes are not well represented in the research literature. This research explores the perspectives of First Nations youth and adults working with them on the meaning of health as well as their thoughts on opportunities for and barriers to improving health and preventing diabetes. Ten in-depth individual interviews with adults and five focus groups with 26 youth were conducted in Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas, Manitoba in October 2004. Interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Qualitative analysis was conducted using thematic analysis, analytical memos and NVivo 2 software. When talking about what being healthy meant to them, both youth and adults included the four aspects of health depicted in the Medicine Wheel in their descriptions. Participants spoke about the importance of positive adult role models for emotional health, the incorporation of traditional native practices into everyday life for spiritual health, the changes in diet and activity level that could affect physical health, and the significance of making good choices for mental health. Both generations identified diabetes and its complications as a concern in their community. For adults and youth, improving health and preventing diabetes incorporated more than physical health. Other components of emotional, spiritual and mental health were connected to these goals. Opportunities for improving health focused on community and family support. First Nations youth are concerned about factors in their surroundings that present a barrier to health and have constructive and practical ideas for improving health. Inclusion of cultural values in health promotion activities could encourage participation and foster ownership of these programs.