Transforming Ontario's Food Systems Together

Good Food Policies for Education

Background Information

Children Need Proper Nutrition to be Healthy

  • 27% of school-aged children are overweight or obese. Children who are overweight or obese are more likely to suffer from respiratory disorders, orthopaedic conditions, elevated blood cholesterol levels, stigmatization from peers and adults, low self-esteem, poor body image and depression.[i]
  • Only 14% of children between 9 and 12 years of age eat the recommended daily serving of fruit and vegetables.[ii]
  • Children and adolescents who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight and develop diet-related illnesses[iii]
  • Unhealthy eating habits during childhood often leads to poor eating habits during adulthood, increasing a person’s risk of premature death and disability due to diet related illnesses.

Healthy Food, Healthy Schools, Healthy Minds

  • Missing or skipping meals undermines children’s academic performance. It leads to fatigue, difficulties concentrating,[iv] low self-esteem[v] and behavioural problems.
  • Teachers report that School Nutrition Programs improve students’ cognitive performance and their educational achievement.[vi]
  • Research shows that when students are given choices and have access to a variety of fruits and vegetables, they choose healthy, fresh food.[vii]
  • 82% of Ontarians want healthy food programming in schools, 77% favour banning fast food chains from providing food services in schools, 71% endorse local food purchasing policies in schools, and 70% endorse mandatory cafeterias and kitchens in new schools.[viii]
  • Canada is the only nation in the former G8 that has no universal student nutrition policy and no federal funding for student nutrition programs.

Analysis

Ontario’s future is its children. Our future economic performance, productivity, and health care costs depend on how well students learn in school and on what habits they develop. We have many opportunities to create a better future for Ontario through food.

Despite great improvement in children’s access to food through the Ontario Student Nutrition Program, many Ontario schools are still unable to offer children the food they need to do well in school. Schools do not have enough funding to provide enough food, much less, healthy or local food. Schools without kitchens are even more limited in the range of foods that they can provide.

Teaching kids about food gives them the tools to make healthy choices. Integrating education about agriculture and food into the Ontario curriculum would develop good food habits early, reducing future rates of diabetes, obesity and other diet related diseases.

Giving kids access to school gardens increases their access to healthy food, gets them excited about healthy eating, and creates an experiential classroom where kids can learn about all subjects in a dynamic, and memorable way.

Steps in the Right Direction

  • In 2005, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services began funding a new regional model to support the Ontario Student Nutrition Program—providing $8.5 million annually to regional agencies across the province.
  • In 2006 Ontario’s Ministry of Health Promotion drew up an Action Plan for Healthy Eating and Active Living, which stressed the need to improve access to healthy foods to young people.[ix]
  • As part of the province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, in 2008, Ontario invested an additional $32 million over three years in the Student Nutrition Program in order to support an additional 700 new breakfast programs and the expansion of 300 existing programs in communities with the highest need[x]
  • The Ministry of Children and Youth Services recently developed Nutrition Guidelines to assist student nutrition program providers in selecting nutritious foods for breakfasts, lunches and snacks.
  • The Ministry of Health Promotion and Sport supports the Northern Fruit and Vegetable Program, which aims to improve the healthy eating habits of elementary school-aged children through the provision of fruits and vegetables in combination with educational activities.[xi]
  • The Ministry of Education has restricted the sale of junk food in schools.

Good Food Policy Ideas

1. Teach Kids About Food: Integrate education about food and agriculture into the Ontario curriculum at all levels.

2. Fund Student Nutrition: Renew and increase the Ontario Student Nutrition Program to ensure that all children have access to a healthy breakfast and snack everyday.

3. Build Food Into Schools: Provide infrastructure grants for schools to enable them to build kitchens, buy food processing equipment and create school gardens.

4. Support Healthy and Local Food: Provide incentives to encourage schools to provide healthy and local food options, such as salad bars and local ingredients.

4. Advocate for Federal Funding: Advocate for federal funding of student nutrition.

5. Find New Opportunities: Bring all ministries that relate to food together along with community members to identify opportunities to create a stronger economy and a healthier province through food. Create a Provincial Food Secretariat or Food Policy Council.
References


[i] Guo, S. S., Chumlea, W. C. (1999). Tracking of body mass index in children in relation to overweight in adulthood. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70(1): 145S-148S.
[ii]
Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada (2002).

Retrieved from the Ontario Student Nutrition Program website. Available at: http://www.osnp.ca/menu.php?list=595&page=135

[iii] Rampersaud, G. C., Pereira, M. A., Girard, B. L., Adams, J., & Metzl, J. D. (2005). Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 105(5): 743-760. AND Afenito et al. (2005). Retrieved from the Ontario Student Nutrition Program website. Available at: http://www.osnp.ca/menu.php?list=595&page=135

[iv] Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty & Nutrition (1994). Nutrition Policy. Retrieved from the Ontario Student Nutrition Program website. Available at: http://www.osnp.ca/menu.php?list=595&page=135

[v] Khan, A. (2005). The relationship between breakfast, academic performance and vigilance in school aged children. Masters by Research thesis. Available at: researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/127/2/02Whole.pdf

[vi] American Dietetic Association et al., (2003). Retrieved from the Ontario Student Nutrition Program website. Available at: http://www.osnp.ca/menu.php?list=595&page=135

[vii] Bays, J. (2010). Farm to school sprouts in British Columbia! A final report of the farm to school salad bar initiative. Prepared for the British Columbia Healthy Living Alliance. Available at: www.phabc.org/userfiles/file/Final_Report_Edted_Nov-24.pdf AND Lautenschlager, L., & Smith, C. (2007). Beliefs, knowledge, and values held by inner-city youth about gardening, nutrition, and cooking. Agriculture and Human Values, 23: 245-258.

[viii] FoodShare (2010). Canadians Demand Federal Action on Childhood Nutrition, National Food Policy. Available at: http://foodshare.net/Foodpolicy08.htm

[ix] Ontario Student Nutrition Program. (2011). History. Available at: http://www.osnp.ca/menu.php?page=144&list=622

[x] Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services. (2011). Student Nutrition Program. Available at: http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/topics/schoolsnacks/index.aspx

[xi] Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services. (2011). Northern Fruit and Vegetable Program. Available at: http://www.mhp.gov.on.ca/en/healthy-eating/nfvp.asp

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