Cree Women Speak: Intergenerational Perspectives on Weight Gain during Pregnancy and Weight Loss after Pregnancy

  • Helen Vallianatos Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta
  • Erin A. Brennand Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Calgary
  • Kim Raine Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science and Centre for Health Promotion Studies, University of Alberta
  • Queenie Stephen Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay
  • Beatrice Petawabano Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay
  • David Dannenbaum Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay
  • Noreen D. Willows Alberta Institute for Human Nutrition, Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta
Keywords: First Nations women’s health, overweight, obesity, pregnancy, social determinants of health, James Bay Cree, traditional lifeways, content-based analysis


Obesity is prevalent among the First Nations population in Canada, with serious associated health risks. Recent studies also indicate that a high percentage of First Nations women are overweight or obese at the start of their pregnancies, with a tendency to retain weight after their children are born. In response to these concerns, a community-based study was conducted in two Cree communities, using qualitative methods to investigate young mothers’ perceptions and concerns about weight gain during pregnancy and challenges to postpartum weight loss. Female Elders were also interviewed to provide some historical context and to give some insight into culturally appropriate responses to the current weight-related health challenges being faced by young mothers. Overall, the study showed that most of the participants—young and old— associated “healthy foods” with traditional foods and “healthy living” with bush life. However, while Elders recounted staying active and eating traditional foods throughout their pregnancies, the younger women tended not to put their knowledge of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle into practice, mainly due to various individual and societal barriers. Some of the barriers identified related to lifestyle changes, including increased consumption of “white man’s foods” and decreased physical activity, as well as to larger social changes, such as the medicalization of pregnancy and diminished community support networks for young mothers. Participants provided insight into how traditional practices could be intertwined with the benefits of contemporary life to help address some of the health issues currently affecting young Cree mothers.