Geography & Environment Publications

The Social Determinants of Inuit Health: A Focus on Social Support in the Canadian Arctic

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International Journal of Circumpolar Health

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Objectives. Societies that foster socially supportive networks produce healthier populations. Social support is a significant determinant of health among Canada’s Inuit population; however, little is known about the characteristics that provide access to social support among Inuit. This exploratory analysis describes how 4 types of social support (namely, positive social interaction, emotional support, tangible support and affection and intimacy) differ in relation to various determinants of health.

Study design. Micro-data from the Arctic Supplement of the 2001 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (n=26,290) was used.

Methods. Cross-tabulations and multivariate logistic regression analyses were used to examine levels (high/low) of the 4 types of social support among the full Inuit sample (n=26,290) as they relate to age, gender, geographic region, marital status, Aboriginal language use and participation in traditional harvesting activities.

Results. Certain subsegments of the Inuit population were less likely to report high levels of social support, including men, the elderly (aged 55+) and the unmarried. Some Inuit-relevant determinants were also found to decrease the odds of reporting high levels of social support, including being unable to speak or understand an Aboriginal language, not participating in traditional harvesting activities and living in Nunavik.

Conclusions. Research that frames Inuit health within the social determinants of health is in its relative infancy; however, evidence from the social epidemiological literature indicates that those with diminished access to social support also suffer poorer health outcomes. Future research should build on the findings of this study to examine how the relationship between various health outcomes (e.g., respiratory disease, suicide attempts, self-rated health) and social support may respond along a social gradient. Such analysis will build on the paucity of literature specific to Inuit health and social conditions and set priorities for policy and programming efforts that will improve the social determinants of Inuit health.

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