A national study on the HEALTH of First Nations children and youth

FEHNCY is a research study that will look at the nutrition, health and environment of First Nations children and youth aged 3-19 years across Canada in communities through partnerships and community participation.


The results from the study will inform government policy and community program recommendations with the goal of improving the health of First Nations children.  The study will contribute to capacity building within First Nations communities and Assembly of First Nations (AFN) regions.

When will the study happen?


2020 – 2030

Communities will be
randomly selected
region by region
beginning fall 2020.

Components of the Study



The availability, accessibility and affordability of food within a region or community influences what a person decides to consume on a daily basis. This is known as the Food Environment. The participating community’s food environment will be assessed by trained community researchers using the following methods:

      I.     Group discussions with children and youth aged 6 to 19

Up to 24 children and youth (12 children aged 6 to 11 and 12 youth aged 12 to 19) will be asked their perspectives about the foods available in their community through drawing activities and group discussions.

      II.   Interviews with local food experts

12 to 15 local food system experts (including traditional food harvesters, social workers, policymakers, store managers, and school/daycare administrators and teachers) will be interviewed to gather knowledge about community members’ access to traditional, store-bought and alternative food sources.

      III.  Assessment of availability, cost and quality of foods in local stores

The National Nutritious Food Basket is a survey tool listing 61 nutritious foods consistent with Canada’s new food guide. The availability, cost and quality of these foods will be assessed in stores where community members usually buy their food from.



  • Parents/caregivers of participating children/youth will answer questions about the home
  • Household inspection using standardized tool
  • Installation of air quality monitors
  • Installation of radon detectors


01. Collection of settled dust

Household dust will be collected and analyzed for endotoxin, dust-mite allergens and fungal glucan. These substances are harmful to lung/respiratory health and are linked to bronchitis, asthma and allergies.

02. Monitoring of indoor air quality

A monitor will be set up in each participating household to measure and record the levels of:

  • carbon dioxide (from breathing),
  • carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide (both released from the burning of fuel),
  • PM2.5 or atmospheric particulate matter (from power plants, cars, burning wood, etc) and
  • formaldehyde (from smoking, cars, burning wood, etc).

High levels of these chemicals can affect lung/respiratory health. The monitor will also record the relative humidity and the temperature in the home.

03. Measurement of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are released as gases from many household products such as paint, varnishes, wax, cleansers and disinfectants, air fresheners, dry-cleaned clothing and pesticides. Exposure to high levels of VOCs can result in symptoms ranging from irritation of the eyes, nose and throat to damage to the liver and kidney or even cancer. To date, little information is available regarding VOCs in First Nations communities.

04. Radon

Radon is an invisible, odourless and tasteless gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rock. When radon is released in enclosed spaces, like homes, it can accumulate to high levels and become a health risk. Monitors will be left in participants’ homes for 90 days to record the level of this radioactive gas.


To measure the child’s exposure to environmental contaminants, their health and nutritional status, the community researchers will set up appointments for the children to visit the mobile clinic. In the FEHNCY mobile clinic, the following measurements, biological sample collection and tests will be conducted:


  • Hair samples from each participant will be collected from each participant to measure total and inorganic mercury levels for the past three months. High exposure to mercury can affect the nervous, digestive and immune systems as well as brain function in children.
  • Blood samples will be collected using standard protocols and a complete blood formula will be performed to evaluate the hemoglobin, corpuscular hemoglobin average, corpuscular hemoglobin average concentration, platelets, etc. These measurements will indicate how well each child is growing. Blood glucose level (to test for diabetes) will also be determined for each child.
  • Urine samples will be collected to measure for exposure to contaminants such as arsenic and cadmium.

All the results obtained from the various analysis will be recorded on the FEHNCY clinical form and participant portfolio. Many analyses will be performed immediately after the sample collection to provide the participants with their results while the FEHNCY mobile clinic team is still in the community whenever possible. On-site clinical follow-up will be set up with designated local health professionals with the consent of the participant in case of abnormal test results.



FEHNCY is designed to encourage and emphasize the involvement of the local communities by motivating them in determining and advocating for improving the health of their next and future generations. Community mobilization is an important aspect of this study and will be applied by providing information to the communities and using the results obtained for advocacy. Presentations and workshops in community schools will be held to promote the engagement of youth leaders and other members in the early stage of the study. Results workshop will be organized to train the First Nations communities on how to analyze their data and to promote regional and national programs and policy changes to benefit the health of their children and youth. Likewise, the study will proceed by fully acknowledging the contributions made by the various partners in producing the results, giving rise to the knowledge and finally, in deciding the actions to be taken.


An alliance between researchers and knowledge users is widely believed to be proven beneficial in improving the application of the research results and alteration of policies. This relationship between the involved parties in order to produce the best outcome is known as Integrated knowledge translation(IKT). In our project, we highly encourage the exercise of IKT and our primary knowledge users are the participating communities, Assembly of First Nations (AFN), and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch. We will administer IKT in our project by holding two regular community presentations during the quantitative data collection phase and one presentation after the quantitative phase to discuss the report cards. A closing celebration will be arranged in each community to present the findings from the qualitative phase and to discuss priorities and recommendations for proposed actions. Towards the end of the entire project, an exhaustive report including all the significant data will be given to the identified band office and other community stakeholders.


One of the key objectives of FEHNCY is implement intergenerational capacity building by exercising participatory mapping methods, key informant interviews and observations. This will help to assist the children, youth and the local community members to maximize their understanding, awareness and activity towards the health concerns present in their community.

03. Household Surveys

100 households with children/youth aged 3-19 years old will be randomly selected to be surveyed. From these households, one child will be randomly selected to participate. Some questions will be posed to their parent/caregiver, and others will be posed to the child/youth.

04. Mobile Clinics

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Main Study


  1. How healthy are First Nations children in Canada?
  2. Are First Nations children living in healthy environments?

What will the study measure?

Who will be doing the research?

Community members will be hired and trained as community researchers.

The Results

Each First Nation will receive a report with community-specific results, and a copy of their community’s data. The FEHNCY team will return to share results, and a workshop on how to use your data will be held in your community. A regional report will present overall results of nutrition, health and environmental well-being of children and youth in your region.

All in-person data collection for FEHNCY is currently on hold to comply with the physical and social distancing recommendations issued by the provincial and federal governments. The FEHNCY team will be starting online key informant interviews in the fall, 2020 and will continue modifying the project methods, timeline, and protocols in collaboration with First Nation partners to adapt to the current circumstances. We are committed to resuming all FEHNCY activities when it is safe to do so and when participating First Nations are ready.