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Climate changes in Arctic affect diet, health of indigenous peoples — scientific survey

Currently, high consumption of traditional food products is typical only during the season of fish production or deer slaughter

TOMSK, August 12. /TASS/. The global climate changes force representatives of the Russian Arctic’s indigenous peoples to cut the share of traditional products in their diet - fish and meat, which affects the immunity and causes more often heart and respiratory diseases. These results were published after studies by the Ministry of Healthcare and Russian scientific organizations, Olga Shaduiko, a coordinator of the Tomsk State University (TSU) SecNet TSU international network engaged in the Siberian and Arctic studies, told TASS.

"The diet of the indigenous inhabitants of West Siberia’s north has been known for a significant proportion of traditional products: venison, reindeer liver, and fish - muksun, broad whitefish, humpback whitefish, Coregonus sardinella, pike. This is extremely important, since by eating local products, a person receives a ready-made set of macro-and microelements necessary for life in the difficult Arctic climate conditions," she said.

The Tomsk State University’s press service explains with reference to researchers, that a main reason for the reduced consumption of tradition food products is the climate transformations. The warming affects hydrology regimes of rivers, shifting fish production seasons. In certain periods fishing is not conducted at all. Due to the late ice formation and early opening of the rivers, reindeer herders change traditional migration routes and consequently deliver less venison to settlements. The increasing extreme weather events also contribute to the reducing traditional food base.

Currently, high consumption of traditional food products is typical only during the season of fish production or deer slaughter. Beyond those seasons, the locals tend to increase the consumption of products rich in so-called light carbohydrates - white bread, gingerbread, sugar, condensed milk, butter and cereals (millet, buckwheat, rice).

Lower life expectancy and depleted resources

The dynamics of average annual temperatures’ growth in the Arctic is about twice as high as in the temperate latitudes. The ability of the local population to get adapted to the harsh Arctic conditions depends on consumption of traditional products, including local fish, venison, wild plants.

"It is the traditional nutrition that is the main tool to prevent cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, metabolic disorders in indigenous peoples. Without traditional nutrition, the spread of hypertension, dyslipidemia, chronic bronchitis, overweight <...> among indigenous peoples becomes even greater than among the non-indigenous peoples," the press service reported.

Local residents explain such changes in the diet by the depletion of natural resources.

"Now we cannot fish Arctic cisco, muksun, nelma, or sturgeon. It's just that their biological resource is depleted. Navigation, industry, climate - the diet is changing. Settlements along the Yenisei, that used to live on muksun fishing, what will they do? It turns out that they live on imported products," the Krasnoyarsk Region’s indigenous peoples ombudsman Semen Palchin told TASS.

In his opinion, these changes have affected the health conditions and life expectancy. "While my grandfather lived for more than a hundred years, now, God forbid, [people live] up to 60," he added.

Residents in villages on the Taimyr experience problems with hunting and even with availability of meat. "The timing and migration routes, as well as the number of wild reindeer have really changed. It’s more difficult to hunt, we need to search for the animals for longer. I can't say that it has radically changed the diet, though it has complicated everything," Denis Terebikhin, a representative of Volochanka’s Husky-Tyal family community in central Taimyr told TASS.

According to him, this year [2021], people living in the village will not see venison at all in the summer. Stew and chicken from the mainland will replace it.

Necessary stock

Previously, the food calendar of the Nenets, Khanty, and Selkup traditionally took into account fishing seasons for different types of fish. Thus, people used to travel to seasonal fishing areas and had fish in their diet at all times. The deer slaughtering was also linked to the migration routes. Reindeer herders could deliver meat to villages both for sale and for families over almost eight months a year. In the recent decade, such options have been only shrinking.

Since 2012, the consumption of fish and venison by indigenous inhabitants of the Yamalo-Nenets Region has decreased to 70%. At the same time, the Nenets living in the tundra practically do not have food stock, which is explained by their nomadic lifestyle. Normally, they would carry the stock sufficient for a family for three to seven days. In summer, a family has a stock of fish for one day. Residents of villages also rarely have traditional food supplies for more than one or two months. Only 10-15% of people use salting, smoking, or pickling to stock fish.

One of the ways to solve this problem is to create fish and venison stocks in villages and to sell the products all year round, researchers believe. This will allow "to preserve the health of the indigenous peoples and to ensure food safety of the people, who live in complicated climate conditions, though in a strategically important Russian region."

The research was carried out by a group of scientists from several research centers, including the Tomsk State University, the Institute of Nutrition and Biotechnology, the National Medical Research Center for Rehabilitation and Balneology, and other organizations. The article, which presents results of the joint study, has been published in the Ambio (Q1) international journal, issued by the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The comparative analysis of the Arctic’s indigenous inhabitants diets in the 21st, 20th and 19th centuries was carried out on the basis of scientific and literary data, and results of modern research. During the expeditions between 2013 and 2018, researchers surveyed 985 people living in settlements and in the tundra (the Yamalo-Nenets Region) on the coasts of the Ob, Taz and Gydan bays of the Kara Sea.