Alberta scores low on youth nutrition
Unhealthy food options and messaging a problem, report card shows.
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When it comes to nutrition and providing children with a healthy food environment, Alberta isn’t making the grade.
The province was given an overall “C” rating by the University of Alberta’s first ever report card on the subject.
“Most parents want their kids to eat well, and kids also probably want to eat well, but in many cases there are barriers to doing that. It might be cost, lack of availability or the marketing of unhealthy foods,” says Kim Raine, a public health professor at the university, and co-lead on the project.
The report card, which will be published on an annual basis, looked at 41 indicators from four key perspectives: the availability of food, marketing of food products, the cost of food and attitudes about food.
Messaging about food, as well as the lack of healthy foods options in schools and recreational facilities, were particularly worrisome.
Only about 60 per cent of food found at schools met Alberta’s nutrition guidelines for children, while at recreational facilities, only 30 per cent of food was considered healthy.
“It’s a good thing that Alberta has dietary guidelines for children, but they are not mandatory,” Raine says. “Only some schools have taken them on, and they’re far from mandatory at recreation facilities.”
“You take your kids to a rec centre to be active and healthy, but then they finish their hockey game and have deep-fried foods and pop as a reward. It doesn’t make sense,” she says.
Raine says she hopes the report card results will encourage parents to advocate for healthier options in settings such as rec facilities.
She also hopes it will encourage policy makers to consider making Alberta’s dietary guidelines mandatory.
“We will certainly review the report card…and take all recommendations into consideration,” says Jeremy Nolais, press secretary to Alberta education minister David Eggen.
The NDP government is also looking into creating a pilot program, originally promised during the campaign to provides nutritious school lunches for 22,000 students in its first year.
Nolais says surveys have been sent out to school boards across the province about nutrition programs that currently exist. The responses are now being analyzed, and results will be shared later this year.