Assessing Nutritional Habits of Ojibwa Children

Year: 2004

Research Center: American Indian Studies Program, The University of Arizona

Investigator: Parrish, Debra

Institution: Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College

Project Contact:
Debra Parrish
Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College
111 Beartown Road
P.O. Box 519
Baraga, MI 49908
Phone: 906-353-8161


The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is a federally recognized Indian tribe located on the L’Anse Indian Reservation in Baraga County, Michigan. To date, no nutrition screening or other health assessments have been conducted on any of the early childhood programs on the reservation. The Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College carried out this project to utilize traditional Ojibwa teachings to change the eating habits of children through their families, daycare providers, and to develop an early childhood education program.

The project goals include:

  1. Documenting the prevalence of health diseases and obesity among tribal youth
  2. Reducing the incidence of chronic health diseases
  3. Creating programs that integrate Ojibwa culture to enhance learning that in turn would bring about healthy lifestyle changes.
The project developed nutrition surveys for families of children ages 0-4 years. Distribution of the surveys proved difficult since tribal operations do not have mailing lists for these children. Assessment forms were distributed through childcare centers, a youth center and faculty, staff, and students of the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College. Survey results show that most families ate three meals and two snacks per day, ate candy four to five times a week, and ate very little traditional Ojibwa food. Families in the study exercised one to two times per week.

A database of menus used at childcare centers was created to determine nutrient content and consumption of traditional Ojibwa foods. The Food Guide Pyramid was used in developing the menus, which rotated on a 6-week basis. Traditional foods were served infrequently. The research found that eating took up a major portion of the childcare day, with breakfast served at 9 am, snack at 10:30 am, lunch at 12 noon, and a snack at 2 pm, with the children going home at 3 pm. The project distributed Ojibwa recipe books to encourage use of traditional foods in menu planning. Barriers to increased use of traditional food included seasonality and cost.

An Ojibwa spiritual leader taught Ojibwa children at a reservation childcare center about nutrition, plants, and other culturally relevant topics targeted to a school-age audience. This activity resulted in the development of a new 4- credit course at the Community College on Fundamentals of Human Nutrition. The course incorporates both contemporary nutritional and traditional Ojibwa information to reduce chronic health diseases.

To encourage the preparation of traditional Ojibwa foods as a healthier alternative to current diets, the Ojibwa Recipe Book developed through the project is being made available to the parents who completed the nutrition surveys. However, since many families rely on commodity foods or food stamps, financial limitations may make it difficult to change eating behaviors. The nutrition project will be integrated with the Community College website to increase access to study findings and the Ojibwa Recipe Book.