New Brunswick weighs in on child obe­sity with ban on flavoured milk, fruit juice in schools

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - CARLY WEEKS

In the bat­tle against child­hood obe­sity, pop and en­ergy drinks have been a prime tar­get for pub­lichealth of­fi­cials who say sug­ary drinks have no place in chil­dren’s di­ets. Now New Brunswick is up­ping the ante, be­com­ing the first ju­ris­dic­tion in Canada to ban flavoured milk and fruit juice in schools.

The new pol­icy – which means flavoured milk and juice can’t be of­fered or sold as part of school meal pro­grams, in vend­ing ma­chines, at fundrais­ers or dur­ing any spe­cial events – is be­ing hailed by pub­lichealth ex­perts who say other prov­inces should fol­low suit as a way of deal­ing with a loom­ing is­sue: An es­ti­mated 30 per cent of chil­dren be­tween five and 17 are con­sid­ered over­weight or obese in Canada.

“They are ac­tively tak­ing a step that will help stu­dents’ health,” said David Ham­mond, pro­fes­sor in the School of Pub­lic Health and Health Sys­tems at the Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo.

The New Brunswick de­ci­sion comes as Health Canada pre­pares to re­lease its new food guide and stake­hold­ers wait to see how the depart­ment will han­dle the con­tentious is­sue of flavoured sug­ary drinks. The cur­rent guide says half a cup of 100-per-cent fruit juice can count as one serv­ing in the fruit and vegetable cat­e­gory, while a cup of choco­late milk counts as a serv­ing of dairy or al­ter­na­tives.

Fruit juice and flavoured milk are per­mit­ted in many Cana­dian schools in part be­cause they are in­cluded in the food guide as healthy op­tions. For in­stance, On­tario says items such as choco­late milk or ap­ple juice are al­lowed in schools be­cause they are part of the food guide. B.C.’s guide­lines for food and bev­er­ages at schools say to choose prod­ucts from Canada’s Food Guide, which can in­clude fruit juice and flavoured milk.

Mean­while, Al­berta does not al­low flavoured milk to be of­fered as part of its new school meal pro­gram, but the prov­ince doesn’t have a ban on flavoured milk or juice be­ing sold in schools or of­fered dur­ing spe­cial events.

The move in New Brunswick should also send the mes­sage to par­ents that sug­ary drinks, even if they con­tain vi­ta­mins or nu­tri­ents, are an un­nec­es­sary part of the diet and can con­trib­ute to health prob­lems, Mr. Ham­mond said.

“The mes­sage that par­ents need to get … is drink milk with­out cubes of sugar in it,” he said. “And sec­ond, eat your fruit, don’t drink it.”

Jim Goetz, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Bev­er­age As­so­ci­a­tion, says such a move could worsen the nu­tri­tion of young Cana­di­ans. The as­so­ci­a­tion has urged Health Canada to keep fruit juice in the guide.

“All di­ets need to be bal­anced,” Mr. Goetz said in an in­ter­view. He high­lighted the find­ings of an expert round­table pub­lished last year in the Jour­nal of Food Science that con­cluded fruit juice can help peo­ple meet the daily rec­om­men­da­tions for fruit and that re­strict­ing ac­cess to it could have “un­in­tended con­se­quences” for nu­tri­tion. The round­table was hosted by Welch’s, which sells a range of juice prod­ucts, and par­tic­i­pants re­ceived an hon­o­rar­ium from the com­pany.

A 2015 study funded by the Dairy Farm­ers of Canada found stu­dents in schools that limit ac­cess to flavoured dairy prod­ucts ended up drink­ing less milk. The Dairy Farm­ers of Canada did not re­spond to in­ter­view re­quests.

But Yoni Freed­hoff, a nu­tri­tion expert and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of fam­ily medicine at the Uni­ver­sity of Ottawa, said the find­ings of the dairy study are mis­lead­ing and that elim­i­nat­ing sug­ary drinks such as choco­late milk from schools will help, not hin­der, nu­tri­tion. “It’s a liq­uid candy bar,” he said.

Choco­late milk has about 6.5 tea­spoons of sugar per one cup serv­ing, com­pared to about three in a cup of 2 per cent un­flavoured milk. Mean­while, 100-per-cent fruit juice can have about four to five tea­spoons of sugar a cup.

A child who eats a piece of fruit will con­sume sugar. But whole fruit helps peo­ple feel full, whereas juice does not, and this can lead peo­ple to con­sume ex­tra calo­ries, said Manuel Arango, di­rec­tor of health pol­icy and ad­vo­cacy at Heart and Stroke.

“We just don’t need to en­cour­age the con­sump­tion of sugar in drinks in the pop­u­la­tion,” Mr. Arango said. “It’s com­pletely un­nec­es­sary.”

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