Recent events in the news have raised the issue of re-doing Canada’s Food Guide. There is no need. The Food Guide is based on science and there was plenty of opportunity for all Canadians to take part in the open consultations. The evidence review for the new Food Guide began in 2013 and the consultation process began in 2016. Health Canada received almost 25,000 responses during this process. Evaluating the evidence, in an open and transparent process based on scientific merit, was a huge step forward in creating a guide that serves the health of the people, not select sectors.
This whole discussion is a distraction from the real issues affecting Canadians.
Consider that 15.1% of households in Ontario reported inadequate access to food because of income, and that 21.2% of children under 18 years of age were living in food insecure households. Instead of ruminating over revisions to the Food Guide, the priority should be to ensure all Canadians can afford to choose healthy foods to meet their family’s needs.
This will require leaders to focus on developing policies that address health. Access to and knowledge regarding healthy food, better education, better employment, better housing, better social supports, better access to transportation, better access to childcare, and many more all contribute to better health. These are what Public Health call the social determinants of health. Improvements in any of these areas result in improved health.
We see the benefits in the policies that created Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, or the recently scrapped Basic Income Guarantee. These are not handouts but a considered policy approach to ensure basic needs are met. When those needs are met, health improves.
Unhealthy eating is costing the province $5.6 billion annually, as identified in The Burden of Chronic Diseases in Ontario: Key Estimates to Support Efforts in Prevention, a report released by Public Health Ontario and Cancer Care Ontario.
The top two causes of death in Grey Bruce (2003- 2012) were heart disease and cancer. Both of these diseases are diet and lifestyle related. People in Grey Bruce have a 27% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to the rest of Ontario. This is why Public Health is working with local municipalities to make communities healthier places. But it still comes down to money. Without adequate financial resources people cannot make good choices when it comes to food and activities for themselves or their children.
The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force 2016 report on food insecurity called for an income response as the only effective solution to this issue. Policies at all levels of the government, municipal, provincial, and federal, are needed to address this serious public health issue. With the release of the new Canada’s Food Guide, let's start a conversation on how we can ensure that everyone in our community has access to healthy food choices.
Public Health Registered Dietitians of the Grey Bruce Health Unit