News / Edmonton

Alberta gets failing grade on food affordability: Report

U of A's Centre for Health and Nutrition calls for changes to help teens have better diets as obesity rates rise

University of Alberta professor Kim Raine

contributed

University of Alberta professor Kim Raine

Alberta is failing teens when it comes to nutrition, according to a new report from the University of Alberta’s school of public health.

Professor Kim Raine, scientific director of the school’s Centre for Health and Nutrition, said those aged 12-17 are not getting the support they nutritional support they need.

She said Alberta’s biggest failing is an “F” grade in affordability.

“If you are on social assistance or if you are working minimum wage, or even if you are a one-income earner in most communities in Edmonton at a reasonable rate like $24 an hour, you cannot afford to purchase a healthy diet,” Raine said.

A recent Statistics Canada study showed that 26 per cent of youth under 18 are overweight and obese, but while national obesity rates are decreasing for children under 12 they are increasing slightly in teens.

A “nutritious food basket” costs roughly $1,100 a month for a family of four in Alberta, Raine said, and a single-income earner making $24 an hour in Grande Prairie would have a monthly income of roughly $3,600.

For a single parent with a monthly income under $1,500 in Edmonton, eating healthy is even less realistic.

“The issue is not that food is expensive, the issue is that income is not sufficient,” Raine said.

Aside from supporting an increase in minimum wage and social assistance dollars, she is advocating for levelling out the price of health and unhealthy foods by taxing sugary food items or subsidizing things like fruits and vegetables.

The centre made a series of recommendations in the report, including national regulations to stop companies from marketing food and drinks to youth — a limitation that has been in place in Quebec for decades.

“(Teens) are getting bombarded by advertisements on the side of their Facebook page, direct ads onto their smartphones, and these ads are not for apples and oranges,” Raine said.

“If government spends in a year what the industry spends in three days in marketing, there’s no way that we can win that battle. There’s no way that we can counteract the marketing through effective nutrition education.

“By putting limits on the marketing, then there is an opportunity for that nutrition education to actually make a difference.”

While the report gave Alberta an “A” grade for supports available to assist public sectors to comply with nutrition policies, she said the problem is none of the provincial guidelines are mandatory.

Raine said even in recreational facilities across the province, 65 per cent of the foods available from vending machines are junk.

“If the healthy choice isn’t available, it is not going to be made,” Raine said.

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