A report card on Alberta’s children’s health and nutrition has given the province a grade of D for its record on providing healthy food environments and good nutrition policies for children and youth, a mark which is one further step down from the C letter grade the province received last year.
The report, entitled “Alberta’s 2016 Nutrition Report Card on Food Environments for Children and Youth” comes from the Power Up for Health program at the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta and aims at providing resources and tools for preventing obesity and chronic disease.
“We’re not doing very well,” says Kim Raine, professor with the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health and team lead on the report. “What surprised us is our grades went down,” she said in conversation with the Edmonton Journal.
The food environment, according to the research team, involves not only the physical space and its various food outlets such as restaurants, supermarkets, corner stores and public places but also the communication and messaging surrounding food to which children and youth are exposed, as well as the social attitudes, beliefs and financial costs associated with food and food consumption.
The report’s authors found that on a number of grounds, Alberta’s food environment is poor, in particular when it comes to creating policies to push corporations to produce and sell healthy foods along with supporting financial incentives for consumers so that sales of healthy foods become more prominent above and beyond the more unhealthy selections.
Raine points out that the norm is for many neighbourhoods to have a ten-to- one ratio of convenience stores and fast food restaurants to supermarkets and grocery stores and she insists that the province has a role to play in determining that landscape. “We do know from research …that when people live close to fast food or convenience stores, or where there’s more of that density, that … people are more likely to have lower-quality diets and have overweight and obesity,” says Raine.
According to the 2012 Canada Health Measures Survey, almost one-third of children in Canada between the ages of five and 17 years of age have been classified as overweight or obese, putting childhood obesity as one of the most important health concerns for parents and health care providers across the country. Not only do overweight and obesity bring with them a set of risk factors for problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and bone and joint problems, they also contribute to psychological issues in children and youth such as low self-esteem and depression.
Earlier this year, a Senate report called obesity in Canada a crisis and pressed for a tax on sugary drinks along with a ban on food and drink advertising aimed specifically at children. The report called for a rewrite of the Canada Food Guide, saying the current model is outdated and has been “at best ineffective, and at worst, enabling” with respect to rising levels of obesity across the country.
The University of Alberta report also recommends imposing a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and adds other measures such as better food labelling and subsidies for transportation and local production of healthy foods for those people living in remote communities in the province.