Alberta scores a D in youth nutrition

You never want to receive a D on a report card. Unfortunately, that was the grade Alberta received according to Alberta’s 2016 Nutrition Report Card: An Annual Assessment of Children’s Food Environment and Nutrition in Alberta. The Edmonton Food Council recently met with Kim Raine, professor in the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, and Kayla Atkey, policy analyst with Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention, to learn more about their work and what this assessment means for Alberta’s youth.

The report card is the second annual assessment of how Alberta’s current food environments and nutrition policies support or create barriers to improving children’s eating behaviours and body weights. It was created through the joint work of over 20 nutrition experts across Canada. Rigorous background research became the basis for the grading scheme used to evaluate the five food environments within the overall food system.  There are four micro-environments – physical, marketing, economic, and social – as well as the political macro-environment, which impacts all  of the micro-environments.

The reason for this assessment was to assess current conditions and spark awareness, says Raine.  She hopes the report card will spur action within communities and encourage the province to work towards healthier food environments in the future.

Municipalities play a key role in causing long-term change in the food environment. Some things that Edmonton could do to improve its grade include altering zoning to promote a healthier food environment around schools (e.g. banning convenience stores within a certain distance from schools) or mandating healthy eating guidelines in city-operated facilities, such as sports and recreation centres. Community initiatives such as  promotion of menu labeling in local grocery stores, social media campaigns, and fruit or veggie subscription programs are also impactful ways of improving the food environment and, in turn, the province’s letter grade.

The assessment is comprehensive, but may not include some grassroots initiatives. During our discussion, some members of the Food Council mentioned programs like Kid’s Bucks or Fruit for a Friend. Raine encouraged continued support of these initiatives in the hopes that they scale up and become sustainable in the long term. As the School of Public Health continues to expand its outreach, it will also try to include the data on initiatives like these in future assessments.

Food shapes a child’s life, but it’s easy to overlook parts of this. Did you ever hang out at the local convenience store or fast food chain at lunch hour or after school, when you were a kid? How would your life have been different if you had had access to healthier options? What about your school cafeteria or  store – did your school have either of those, and what sorts of things were for sale?

It would be easy to raise the alarm because of the lackluster results of this report card, especially knowing that dietary risks have now surpassed tobacco-related risks as the number one burden of disease in Canada. This report card clearly shows the need for both awareness and action on these areas. Change won’t come just from one place, however: collaboration between different fields will cause more effective changes in the food environment. There is a lot of crossover between fresh and the various initiatives that would improve our letter grade on this report card. The Food Council will continue to strive for a resilient food system at both the city and provincial level, which would result in a grade that anyone would be excited to take home to their parents.

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The 2017 report card will be released in September – watch the Food Council’s blog for those results in the fall.

For more information on the report card and the School of Public Health, check out the website here.

Many thanks to Stephen Raitz, Planning Work Experience Student at the City of Edmonton, Sustainable Development, for writing this post on behalf of the Edmonton Food Council!

 

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