Strengthening Adolescents' Connection to Their Traditional Food System Improves Diet Quality in Remote Alaska Native Communities: Results from the Neqa Elicarvigmun Pilot Study

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Translational Behavioral Medicine

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In remote Alaska Native communities, traditional foods are inextricably linked to health and food security. Degradation of the traditional food system over the past several decades has resulted in a shift in dietary patterns that have contributed to increased rates of chronic diseases and food insecurity among Alaska Native People. Interventions are needed to address this. Our objectives were to evaluate the preliminary efficacy of a school-based intervention—Neqa Elicarvigmun or the Fish-to-School Program—on diet quality, fish intake, and attitudes and beliefs around traditional foods (specifically fish) using a pre–post comparison group design with data collection occurring at three time points. Study participants were 76 middle and high school students in two remote Alaska Native communities (population p < .05). Fish intake, measured using the stable nitrogen isotope ratio of hair, a validated biomarker, also increased significantly in the experimental community (Beta = 0.16; p < .05). Leveraging the cultural and physical resources of the traditional food system for the Neqa Elicarvigmun program represents a strength-based approach that improves diet quality, increases adolescents’ connection to their traditional culture, and by promoting the local food system supports food security. Embedding the program into the local culture may result in faster adoption and greater sustainability of the program.


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