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Why public investment in bc school food?

The concerns

Studies show that in BC and across Canada, children and youth consume insufficient and unhealthy diets, with low fruit and vegetable consumption. According to a 2016 study, only 10% of all Grade 6-12 students in BC eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and veggies. The 2018 BC Adolescent Health Survey found that “less than 4 in 10 students always ate three meals a day on school days.”

In addition, children and families are struggling to access healthy foods. BC’s 2022 Food Costing Report indicated that approximately 145,000, or 1 in 6, children in BC lived in a food insecure household in 2021. Children who live in food insecure households have poorer general health, as well as poorer academic outcomes and social skills compared to children who do not experience food insecurity.

There is also a growing rate of disordered eating among school-aged students, high reliance on ultra-processed foods, and unprecedented disconnection to our food systems. 

The current combination of food insecurity and low food literacy rates negatively impacts a child’s physical and mental health, as well as their academic performance, with long-term public health implications.

The solution: school food

While school food does not replace broader poverty reduction strategies to address food insecurity, programs that support healthy eating behaviours and food literacy from a young age are increasingly recognized as a valuable health promotion policy in many countries.

 

According to the WHO, schools offer more effective, efficient, and equal opportunities than any other setting to promote healthy eating and food literacy. This is because:

  • Students eat at least 1/3 of their daily calories at school;

  • Schools also reach young people from all socioeconomic backgrounds at a critical age of development in which eating patterns are developed, tested and adapted.  

Evidence points to the value of universal school food programs both to improve poor nutrition, and to encourage positive health and education outcomes in children from all socio-economic backgrounds. 

  • School food programs have been linked with reductions in behavioural and emotional problems, reductions in bullying, aggression, anxiety, and depression, as well as fewer visits to the school nurse. 

  • School food programs have also been shown to improve critical food literacy skills that support local agriculture and promote sustainable food systems. 

  • Combined with poverty reduction strategies, school food programs can also alleviate the burden of food insecurity felt by women and families, and can be designed intentionally to level the playing field and reduce inequalities.

Check out our “Why it matters” page for more information. 

 

The BC context

With no federal funding or guidance, school communities across the country have taken it upon themselves to develop, fund, and run school food programs over the last few decades. 

Since the 1980s, school food champions across BC (including teachers, parents, administrators and community partners) have created school food programs at classroom, school or district scales. In 2018, 75% of school districts reported having a meal program in at least one school. 

Until recently (2022), there was no dedicated public funding for school food programs. Prior to the Feeding Futures investment, funding came from a variety of sources:

  • Schools and districts partially paid for programs through CommunityLINK, which is a funding stream from the BC Ministry of Education and Child Care, designed to support the academic achievement and social functioning of vulnerable students. Many academic and social programs competed for this same pot of funding.

  • The vast majority of school food programs relied on additional charitable funds to pay for food programs - this came from grants, direct donations of money or product, or payments from parents or other members of the school community. Many programs are still relying on charitable funds to supplement new Feeding Futures dollars.

  • According to a 2015 study, teachers alone contributed a total of $3.85 million per year to address the needs of hungry students in BC public schools.

While the patchwork of programs were valuable for students who participated, they reached only a small percentage of BC’s 5 million+ students and did not reach some of the most vulnerable students in BC. Most were struggling to meet rising costs and growing demands. Many champions and volunteers risked burnout.

To ensure ALL BC students had equitable and sustainable access to healthy food at school, the BC Chapter advocated for dedicated provincial support! Learn more about the province’s response to this need here.

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