What are your children eating at school?
A recent study revealed that children are not eating enough nutritious food during school hours, whether it be from a lunch packed from home or food from the school cafeteria. The study analyzed data from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey of over 4800 children aged from six to seventeen. The data is 13 years old, but provides a solid foundation in determining children’s school-hour food consumption that will eventually be compared to the 2015 data, soon to be available. Since 2004, all provinces have initiated guidelines concerning food sold in schools, but are non-binding guidelines enough?
The study, done by Claire Tugault-Lafleur, a PhD candidate in the human nutrition program at the University of British Columbia, is the first of its kind in comparing a child’s food intake within school hours to non-school hours. The study used 11 key components of a healthy diet to examine the food and beverages children intake between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. The average score was 53.4 out of 100 on the healthy scale. The food groups with the lowest scores were dark green vegetables, fruits, whole grains and milk and alternatives.
Although the study does show a need for improvement in this area of children’s’ health, provinces have already taken certain steps in providing schools and school boards with dietary guidelines. The Ontario provincial policy, PPM150 “School Food and Beverage Policy,” was issued in 2010 and states that 80 per cent of food served in schools should be part of the healthy food groups.
“Us, as dieticians, have always said that the easier process would be to impose 100 per cent, this would make it easier for schools to manage if they are following the guidelines,” said Lysanne Trudeau, program manager with a focus on nutrition and schools at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). “There would no longer be this grey area. A cookie is clearly not in the healthy categories, so cookies shouldn’t be served.” The Ministry is presently in the early stages of revamping its current policy, however no timeline has been set on this project. According to Trudeau, the Ministry usually has a group of provincial dieticians at hand that provide recommendations to the government.
Just as school boards and schools do not actually have any legal obligation to follow the policy guidelines set up by the government, the EOHU also does not have any mandate to follow up with school boards or to perform any in-school food inspections. “The Eastern Ontario Health Unit, as well as the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, sets the guidelines and provides us with guidance on healthy schools and we follow them,” said Leah Finley, executive assistant to the director of Education at the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO). CDSBEO also has their own board-wide policy on healthy foods for their hot lunch providers and sends newsletters to parents encouraging healthy snacks during school hours.
All four school boards in the region follow the school lunch guidelines provided to them by the health units and the Ministry, ensuring that 80 per cent of the food being sold in the cafeterias is healthy. Evidently, this does not include the lunches children are bringing from home, leaving responsibility to parents to make certain their children Une étude récente a révélé que les enfants ne mangent pas assez d’aliments nutritifs durant les heures scolaires, que ce soit à partir d’un lunch emballé à la maison ou de nourriture à la cafétéria. L›étude a analysé les données de l›Enquête sur la santé dans les collectivités canadiennes de 2004, faite auprès de plus de 4800 enfants âgés de six à 17 ans. Les données sont vieilles de 13 ans mais constituent une base solide pour déterminer la consommation alimentaire des enfants à l›école, qui sera éventuellement comparée aux données de 2015, bientôt disponibles. Depuis 2004, toutes les provinces ont adopté des lignes directrices concernant les aliments vendus dans les écoles, mais est-ce assez ? are eating healthy during school time. The Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health (OSNPPH) has set up projects, most notably a non-profit project to schools, named BrightBites, which encourages classrooms and individual students to be involved in their own health. “Something we have done at EOHU is partner up with the Champlain Cardiovascular Disease Prevention Network (CCPN) for a program called Healthy Schools 20\20, which has guidelines to help schools evaluate lunches, the number of fruits and vegetables that should be included and so on,” said Trudeau.
The correlation between healthy eating and learning is a non-disputable and wellestablished fact – studies show that students that are well nourished have a significantly better chance at succeeding in school. The recent study that analyzed data from 2004 demonstrated a need for significant improvement in Canadian children’s healthy food consumption during school, however many more programs and guidelines have been introduced since then. Therefore, the real test on the country’s improvement regarding healthy lunches in schools will be shown once the more recent 2015 data is released, and only then will we know if these guidelines and programs are enough to ensure children are eating healthy.