The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has awarded a grant to the Alaska Native Health Board to support surveys of the dietary habits of Alaskans who regularly eat traditional foods. Press Release
Frequently Asked Questions about the project and the dietary surveys.
Project Mission: In collaboration with key partner organizations in Alaska, the ATSDR Alaska Traditional Diet Project will assist consumers of Alaskan traditional foods to make informed dietary decisions to prevent adverse health outcomes, while incorporating both traditional and western scientific information.
What is ATSDR?
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a federal public health agency charged with investigating and preventing human health problems associated with exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment. ATSDR works with the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal, tribal, state, and local governments; with health care providers; and with affected communities.
Alaska Residents' Concerns
Environmental contamination in Arctic regions is a recognized issue. Persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, and radionuclides from both local and distant sources have been found in Alaska and other Arctic areas. Concerns exist that exposures to contaminants resulting from a subsistence lifestyle, or through commercial and recreational exposures, can potentially lead to cancer, worsen existing conditions such as diabetes and asthma, and increase the incidence of other health problems. To enable them to make informed choices about their foods, Alaskans have requested more information about the risk from these exposures and the nutritional benefits of traditional foods.
Congress has asked ATSDR to identify and study "contaminants in the environment, subsistence resources, and people in Alaska Native populations." More recently, Congress expanded ATSDR's project to cover all consumers of Alaska traditional foods, including subsistence, commercial and recreational. Among its strengths, ATSDR brings an extensive public health experience in helping state and tribal governments, and communities identify and reduce exposures to contaminants in the environment.
ATSDR has formed an Alaska Traditional Diet Project (ATDP) team to address the mandate from Congress. The team has developed 1) a mission statement that is shared with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and other partners in Alaska, 2) goals to help focus the project, and 3) a draft strategy that was discussed at the February 2001 Alaska Forum on the Environment. The following cross-cutting, guiding principles provide the foundation for ATSDR's project.
- Be culturally sensitive.
- Coordinate closely with, and support ongoing efforts of, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
- Develop a native-driven project.
- Be community-based and inclusive.
- Coordinate and integrate with other active dietary projects in Alaska.
- Recognize regional and cultural differences.
- Identify alternative funding sources and opportunities to leverage funds.
- Evaluate project activities, outcomes, and impacts at every step.
Through established and new partnerships, the ATDP will assist in:
- Identifying items in the traditional diets and market foods consumed.
- Determining the health risks and benefits of traditional versus market diets.
- Developing a shared process (native knowledge and science) to assure appropriate levels of communication, education, training, and community outreach.
- Open communications throughout project implementation: Communication is a
critical element of ATSDR's planned approach. This includes providing regular
information briefings, broadly distributing project information through various
media (including print, broadcast, and electronic media), and seeking input from
all partners throughout the process.
- Work with key partners: Adequate interpretation of the data, including an
assessment of whether public health is being harmed by environmental contaminants
in Alaska, requires working with the Alaska Department of Health and Social
Services, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and local, native,
federal, and international organizations. ATSDR has identified and plans to work
with many partners involved with the Alaskan environmental contaminant and
traditional dietary issues.
- Define project opportunities: ATSDR will focus on effectively expending the
funds appropriated in fiscal year 2001. The principal short-term objective is
to begin to identify and characterize regional traditional diets. The first step
is to facilitate development of a comprehensive and comparable dietary survey.
ATSDR will release funds through interagency agreements, and grants or
cooperative agreements, to enable immediate, effective application of ATDP
funding in developing and using the dietary survey. Support would be provided to
Alaska Native organizations and tribes, Alaska Regional Health Corporations, and
other organizational partners. The ATDP is also collaborating with the National
Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and
the Environmental Protection Agency to develop partnerships, leverage funding,
begin analysis of traditional foods, and assist in the development of a response
to environmental contaminant issues in Alaska.
- Local interaction: The ATDP requires intensive efforts on the part of ATSDR to obtain and maintain involvement with stakeholders, including Alaska Native organizations and state public health and environmental officials. During Fiscal Year 2001, ATSDR regional staff from the Seattle, WA office are working in Alaska approximately two weeks per month to meet face-to-face with officials, leaders, representatives, and individuals on this and other issues of interest. ATSDR feels that having a local presence provides for more effective communication and enhance coordination with ATSDR's partners and stakeholders on this project.
- Gathered and conducted a preliminary evaluation of information about activities related to dietary and environmental surveys under way in Alaska.
- Announced the project to the public through meeting presentations, pamphlets and this web page.
- Met with concerned stakeholders and participants in ongoing health and environmental studies in Alaska.
- Presented draft proposed plan, strategies, and projects.
- Initiated government-to-government consultation activities.
- Awarded a grant to the Alaska Native Health Board to support surveys of the dietary practices of rural Alaskans who regularly eat traditional foods.
- Maintain regular communication.
- Continue government-to-government consultation activities.
- Provide technical assistance as requested to the Alaska Native Health Board in support of local surveys to learn the characteristics of local diets.
- Work with the project oversight committee. Members of this committee will represent diverse and valuable perspectives on the issues of contaminants and traditional diets.