The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are known for their appreciation of all that life has to offer.
Eating is one of the most basic elements of everyday life. Every single day, meal after meal, we make choices about what we eat. Healthy eating is something most of us aspire to because we know it helps maintain a healthy weight and prevent disease. But it just isn’t that easy to do. Today’s food environment makes it challenging to choose healthy foods.
This is why Health Canada launched a comprehensive and holistic Healthy Eating Strategy last fall. The goal of the Strategy is to help make the healthy food choice the easy choice for all Canadians, and we have made significant progress toward this goal. For example:
- We finalized regulations on nutrition labelling and food colours to make the Nutrition Facts table on packaged foods easier for Canadians to use and understand.
- We introduced a regulatory proposal to prohibit the use of industrial trans fats.
- We continue to track industry’s progress toward meeting sodium reduction targets.
- And we completed public consultations on revising Canada’s Food Guide and on front-of-package labelling.
The initiatives I have outlined are part of the Government of Canada’s overall vision for a healthy Canada: a holistic approach to health that incorporates healthy eating, healthy living and a healthy mind.
The Healthy Eating Strategy is complementary to A Food Policy for Canada, which, as one of its four themes, seeks to increase Canadians’ ability to make healthy and safe food choices.
As we know, Canadians don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains. In fact, some 30% of the calories that Canadians consume every day come from foods that are high in fat, sugars and sodium. And many of the foods that Canadians eat lack important nutrients, such as fibre.
The result is that more than half of adults in Canada are now overweight or obese.
But I don’t have to tell you that. As dietitians, you know only too well that the current dietary habits of many Canadians do not support good health. These patterns are at the root of North American-wide trends toward obesity and chronic disease.
Since 1980, obesity among Canadian children, youth and adults has increased dramatically. Obesity in turn is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer.
We simply can’t let this continue. Through our Healthy Eating Strategy, which Minister Philpott announced last fall, we are working to ensure that federal policies support healthy eating and have a positive impact on the long-term health of Canadians.
And that’s why, this morning, I want to spend some time talking to you about the actions the Government of Canada is taking to help Canadians make healthier choices when it comes to food.
A revised Canada’s Food Guide
A key action we are taking is revising Canada’s Food Guide.
Canada’s Food Guide is an iconic Canadian document.
For decades, the Food Guide has been the foundation for healthy eating in this country. The current version is the second most requested document from the federal government. In fact, many of you have probably requested it for use as a guide to educate your clients on making healthier choices.
But as research evolves about food, we need to look at our recommendations to make sure they are always up-to-date.
That is why last year, Health Canada completed a review of the scientific evidence behind the current dietary advice in the Food Guide. The Department also reviewed how the Food Guide was being used by Canadians, health professionals, educators and others.
The key findings concluded that the 2007 version no longer meets the needs of Canadians, and that many people find it hard to interpret and apply it in their daily lives.
Last October, as part of our government’s Healthy Eating Strategy, Minister Philpott launched a process to transform Canada’s Food Guide into a suite of products that would better meet Canadians’ needs.
Announcement: Canada Food Guide Report and 2nd Consultations
Since then, Health Canada has completed a public consultation, and I am pleased to announce that the “What We Heard” Report is now available on our website. This is a summary of input from nearly 20,000 submissions.
Some of the key findings are that:
- Canadians commonly use healthy eating recommendations to plan meals, and to choose the types of foods they will prepare and eat as part of a healthy meal.
- They find the information on the types of foods to consume or limit to be the most useful part of the Guide.
- Health professionals, like you, want topics – such as processed foods, eating behaviours and food skills – to be included in the dietary guidance policy.
I’m happy to announce that we are launching a second public consultation to gather feedback on our proposed healthy eating recommendations.
As always, the input received in this consultation will be taken into consideration as we develop a new suite of dietary guidance tools for the general public, health professionals and policy makers.
This consultation will run for 45 days, and will close on July 25. I invite you all to participate in the consultation, and to encourage your clients and partners in healthcare to also give us their views. By making your views known, you will help us make the next set of dietary guidance tools the best they can be, and the most useful to you and your clients.
Marketing to Kids
The second initiative I’d like to highlight today concerns the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to our kids.
As you know, eating patterns are set early in life, and recent trends are worrisome. Children and youth are exposed to advertising for unhealthy foods and beverages in many ways and in many places, all day long.
When they watch TV, Canadians kids see, on average, four to five food and beverage ads per hour. At least two-thirds of these ads are for products that don’t reflect the Food Guide’s dietary advice.
When they browse the Internet, Canadian kids collectively are exposed to more than 25 million food and beverage ads a year. Almost all of these promote products that are high in sugar, salt and fat.
Children are easily influenced by advertising. The evidence shows that the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to kids is associated with an increased risk of childhood obesity. Approximately one in three children in Canada aged 6 to 17 is overweight or obese. We are also seeing more chronic diseases, such as diabetes, in children.
The federal government is taking action to protect kids from marketing tactics that encourage them to eat unhealthy foods. We want to help give kids the best possible start, so they can live long and healthy lives.
So today, Health Canada is also launching a public consultation on a proposed approach to restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.
In the consultation, we are asking for Canadians’ views on what age of child our proposed restrictions should apply to. We want Canadians’ views on which foods should be restricted, and which foods can be allowed to be marketed to kids, as well as what marketing tactics we could permit.
This consultation is also open for 45 days and will close on July 25. I invite you to also participate in this consultation and to encourage your clients to provide their views. It is extremely important for future generations that we all join together in protecting our kids.
Other Healthy Eating Strategy initiatives
The work we are doing on the Food Guide and marketing of unhealthy foods to kids are only two of the actions the Government of Canada is taking to help Canadians make more informed and healthier food choices.
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve made good progress already on work to improve nutrition labelling, prohibit industrial trans fat and reduce sodium from the Canadian diet. And we are well on our way with our Food Guide revisions and our proposal to restrict marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to kids.
To complement this work, Health Canada has also proposed mandatory front-of-package labelling that would highlight foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat.
Canadians of all ages are exposed to an endless stream of messages and information about foods and beverages.
As dietitians, you are no doubt frequently asked by your patients to help them sort out this information to make healthy choices.
I believe the Food Guide will continue to be a trusted source of information for all Canadians. And our proposed policy on restricting marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children will protect them from advertising that could set them on a path toward unhealthy eating and its consequences.
We need to start taking action today to protect our children from obesity and chronic diseases in the future.
Promoting a healthy diet is essential to this effort.
The initiatives I have outlined today are part of the Government of Canada’s overall vision for a healthy Canada: a holistic approach to health that incorporates healthy eating, healthy living and a healthy mind.
I know that the Minister truly appreciates the work that dietitians and other professionals do to support healthy eating.
It is only by working together that we can help ensure that for Canadians, the healthy choice is the easy choice.