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New novel explores Arctic obesity

  • Author: Craig Medred
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published March 26, 2011

In an interview with NPR on Thursday, author and physician Kenneth Patterson reflects on his experiences as a surgeon in both Canada's Arctic regions and in combat zones in Afghanistan. He noted the discrepancy between the high fat content in those he had operated on in the Far North and the comparatively lower internal fat levels of those in the developing regions of Afghanistan. He concluded that western dietary and lifestyle practices are to blame for the spike in obesity and type-2 diabetes among peoples of the Arctic in the past decades.

Patterson has worked closely with the Inuit people of Canada, and notes that until the last half-century or so, Inuit culture was primarily that of a hunter-gatherer society.

"The traditional Inuit culture of relentless motion and a traditional diet," Patterson says in the interview, "that's been abandoned over this period of time, for Kentucky Fried Chicken and processed food and living a life very similar to ours, spending a lot of it in front of a glowing screen." Patterson goes on to blame the economic advantages of shipping processed foods to remote locations when compared to fresh food like fruits, vegetables, or dairy, that can be incredibly expensive for people living a primarily subsistence lifestyle.

Patterson, a resident of British Columbia, has written a fictional account of his Arctic experience, "Consumption," about a doctor who also works in the Arctic. "Part of the point of my writing has been to draw the parallels between the Inuit and southern North Americans," Patterson said, who compared the cheapness and appeal of fast food within urban centers to the delivery problems of fresh ingredients to remote Arctic locations, where the end result -- diabetes, heart disease and obesity -- is the same in both rural and heavily populated areas.

Read more about the new book (inlcuding an excerpt), Patterson's other works, and listen to the whole interview here.

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