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Tuberculosis among Inuit

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The health of a people -- their vulnerability to illnesses and diseases -- is often an indicator of something larger. A new report shows that the rate of tuberculosis among Inuit is 185 times greater than for the rest of the country. That's an incredible number and, sadly, it's the product of our unfair social institutions.

The rate of tuberculosis, it turns out, is increased with poor and overcrowded housing, little food to eat, as well as infrequent and insufficient access to health care. These are all conditions Inuit face. First Nations living in the southern provinces of Canada have also been shown to have high rates of tuberculosis -- 31 times higher than the rest of the country, in fact. Due, of course, to similar institutional deficiencies.

The Canadian government, at both the local and federal level, must recognize this phenomenon and learn the proper lesson from it: that economic disparity, poverty, joblessness, marginalization and other social ills take their toll.

In a recent article for The Nation titled "Save the Child," Melissa Harris-Lacewell wrote about obesity in America and Michelle Obama's self-appointed role in reducing the rate of it among children. A seemingly noble and uncontroversial cause, Harris-Lacewell notes the problem with looking at obesity the way Obama has. Obama's approach is to regard obesity as solely a health issue, one emerging from poor diet and lifestyle choices. But this is misleading, Harris-Lacewell argues:

In its current form, Mrs. Obama's initiative is focused on providing nutrition information, improving food choices and encouraging physical exercise... But it does not rigorously engage a policy agenda that embraces children as part of nutritionally and recreationally deficient communities. Since race and poverty are intimately linked to childhood obesity, it is easy to imagine that this effort could soon slip into rhetoric about saving kids from their deep-frying, sedentary parents rather than linking health to the government and corporate choices that affect both children and adults.

The point is that we have to look at health issues in their social and political context. Just as the rate of obesity in America is related to poverty, the alarmingly high rate of tuberculosis among Inuit is linked to their social and economic standing.

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