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Making Healthy Choices Easier for Alberta Kids


romoting healthy eating among children and youth is a serious public health challenge in Alberta and across the country. We know that diets rich in vegetables and fruit, whole grains and plant-based proteins help promote healthy childhood development and reduce chronic disease risk (Health Canada, 2017). Unfortunately, many Canadian kids are consuming high amounts of processed foods, high in calories, sugar and saturated fats, putting them at increased risk of chronic conditions (Health Canada, 2017, Heart & Stroke, 2017). Recent research commissioned by Heart & Stroke found that Canadian children and youth are getting more than 50% of their daily calories from energy-dense, nutritionally lacking products (Moubarac, 2017). Once upon a time, we thought healthy eating simply meant making “good” food choices. As a parent, this might mean encouraging kids to eat more vegetables, limiting sugary foods at home and keeping the water jug full. These actions are important, but more and more, we are realizing that making healthy food choices is not that simple. Our eating habits and the habits we set for our kids are also influenced by the settings where we live, work and play. From hot dog school lunches and sport team pizza specials, to fast food advertisements on TV and sugary drink ‘snap chat’ filters, one thing is clear: junk food is at kids’ finger tips everywhere they turn. And sophisticated, edgy marketing urges them to want and eat more (Heart & Stroke, 2017). A quick scan of the various places young people spend their time – from where they learn (schools), play (recreation facilities), relax (social media, TV) and socialize (malls, stores, and festivals) – it’s

Additional Details The Benchmarking Food Environments Project Drs. Kim Raine (Primary Investigator), Candace Nykiforuk, and Katerina Maximova from the University of Alberta received funding from Alberta Innovates Cancer Prevention Research Opportunity (CPRO) for the project "Impact of Benchmarking Food Environments on Policies and Actions to Promote Healthy Eating for Reducing Cancer Risk". Funding will enable



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apparent that very few community settings are immune. Added all up, it’s not surprising that healthy choices are difficult, for kids and adults alike. Parents could use some extra help. The good news is that a lot can be done to make healthy choices easier for young people. Significant progress will, however, require more than simply urging kids to eat their vegetables! We need a culture shift that makes the healthy choice the easy (or default) choice. This requires improving the settings where we live, work and play so that they support healthy food choices, and limit unhealthy options. That’s where Alberta’s Nutrition Report Card comes in. Released annually by researchers at the University of Alberta, Alberta’s Nutrition Report Card examines food environments in Alberta to provide a snapshot of whether Alberta is making healthy choices easy for children and youth, where we are succeeding and where more work is needed. For 2017, Alberta received an overall “C” grade. Although an improvement since 2016, the report found that many policies are still failing youth (aged 12-17). According to Dr. Kim Raine, lead investigator of the Report Card and professor at the University of Alberta, strategies put in place a decade ago to protect younger children are beginning to have an impact. Rates of overweight and obesity among children (aged 2-11) in Canada are on a slight downward trend (Statistics Canada, 2017), though still far too high. Despite some improvement, more action is

By Kayla Atkey, MSc Policy Analyst Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention, University of Alberta Ashley Hughes, RD Communications and Community Engagement Coordinator Centre for Health and Nutrition, University of Alberta

required, particularly to protect youth (aged 12-17), among whom rates of excess weight are still increasing (University of Alberta, 2017, Statistics Canada, 2017). For example, about half of schools in Alberta have a nutrition policy, but there is a need to extend these policies to all schools so they reach older children through to Grade 12 (University of Alberta, 2017). To help create healthier settings for both children and youth in Alberta, examples of additional recommendations from Alberta’s 2017 Nutrition Report Card include: • Calling for zoning to decrease fast food outlets within 500 meters of schools • Encouraging recreation facilities to bring in vending contracts that supply healthy foods • Supporting national efforts to restrict unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children and youth Everyone has the potential to make a difference in their community by encouraging healthier food options. Both parents and young people can use their voices to create change! Here are some ideas to take action: • Order healthy options when they are available (show businesses the consumer demand!) • Talk to your school or recreation facility about providing healthy options, and ask if they have a healthy eating policy in place • Support national efforts to restrict unhealthy food and beverage marketing. To learn more, visit: • Tweet or share information about Alberta’s Nutrition Report Card on social media To learn more about Alberta’s Nutrition Report Card, visit the Centre for Health and Nutrition:

the annual production of Alberta's Nutrition Report Card, and assessment of current food environments and nutrition policies in Alberta through 2021.

knowledge user on Alberta’s Nutrition Report Card.

The Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention (APCCP)

The Centre for Health and Nutrition (CHaN) is an Institute of the University of Alberta housed in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences in partnership with the School of Public Health. It’s vision is optimal health through food and nutrition. CHaN provides communication support for Alberta’s Nutrition Report Card (2017-2018).

Housed at the University of Alberta, the APCCP is a coalition of organizations that have come together to coordinate efforts, generate evidence and advocate for policies to reduce chronic diseases in Alberta. The APCCP is a

Centre for Health and Nutrition

YEGFITNESS - May/June 2018