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Senator Eggleton tables motion to launch a National Nutrition Program for Children and Youth

Updated: Sep 5, 2018

June 15, 2018 (OTTAWA) - The Coalition for Healthy School Food issued the following statement in support of Senate Motion no. 358, which was introduced late yesterday afternoon:

Senator Art Eggleton’s motion will enrich an important national conversation about children’s health. Specifically, this motion will help focus the Government’s attention on the unanimous 2015 recommendation of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs Science and Technology (#17) that the Minister of Health “Advocate for childcare facility and school programs related to breakfast and lunch programs…and nutrition literacy courses.” A 1997 recommendation made by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance “to create a national school nutrition program” was never followed-up.

Senate motion no. 358 proposes:

"That the Senate urge the government to initiate consultations with the provinces, territories, Indigenous people, and other interested groups to develop an adequately funded national cost-shared universal nutrition program with the goal of ensuring healthy children and youth who, to that end, are educated in issues relating to nutrition and provided with a nutritious meal daily in a program with appropriate safeguards to ensure the independent oversight of food procurement, nutrition standards, and governance"

The 40-group Coalition for Healthy School Food has been stepping up calls for a national school food program, that would enable schools to support healthier eating, since its founding in 2013. The Coalition has been working with Senator Eggleton, a long-standing supporter of nutritious school food programs, to see this motion introduced.

Studies show that school food programs can contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular events and chronic disease such as stroke, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer by increasing students’ intake of vegetables and other healthy foods. Most school systems in Canada, however, lack the funding and infrastructure to support healthy meals and many schools are places where students can still regularly buy food with little to no nutritional value. Our current system contributes to illness that all three levels of government spend hundreds of billions of dollars to treat and prevent every year. “Public institutions that serve the educational needs of children and youth need public investments to create health-promoting environments. Installing strong conflict of interest safeguards to, for instance, prevent food companies from influencing nutrition standards or procurement rules is the key to a successful program,” said Bill Jeffery of the Centre for Health Science and Law, publisher of Food for Life Report.

“I’m delighted to see the leaders of this country recognize the federal government’s role in supporting child health and learning with the introduction of Motion no. 358. Universal, healthy school food programs help to level the playing field ensuring all students have access to nutritious food, which in turn supports their learning. Raising children to be healthy productive citizens of the future is in all our best interests,” said Margo Riebe-Butt, Executive Director of Nourish Nova Scotia.

Some provinces are taking a lead on this issue. The Alberta government has committed to a substantial investment of $16 million this academic year and long time Ontario Minister of Finance Charles Sousa has spoken glowingly about his province’s $32 million investment in school meals at a federal-provincial meeting of finance ministers. Until three years ago, the federal government had not made any investments in school food. We hope that recent federal interest, including Senator Eggleton’s motion, will lead towards a sustained federal investment that will improve health, educational, and behavioural outcomes of Canadian children and youth.

“Studies show that only one-third of our students eat enough fruits and vegetables, one-third of primary students and two-thirds of secondary students go to school without a nutritious breakfast, and one-quarter of calories consumed by children are from foods not recommended in Canada’s Food Guide,” said Coalition Coordinator Carolyn Webb. “Young people that participate in healthy school food programs show a higher intake of fruits and vegetables, increased physical and mental health, and better educational outcomes,” she added.

Publicly funded school meals are the norm internationally and they are gaining traction in Canada. Finland, Brazil, South Africa, India, New York City, Houston, Los Angeles, the United Kingdom, and dozens of other jurisdictions run comprehensive school meal programs. The U.N. World Food Program reports that, once low income countries reach incomes of $10 per capita per day and no longer receive official development assistance, they fund school meal programs out of their own budgets. Every March, 300,000 Canadian school children, school meal program volunteers, parents, educators, health advocates and policy-maker publicly celebrate school food programs by simultaneously biting into apples and carrots at “Great Big Crunch” events held in communities across the country.

According to the Global Burden of Disease project, the 48,000 Canadian deaths attributed to poor nutrition in 2016 rivals the number of deaths caused by tobacco and alcohol combined. If public support for better nourished Canadians starts with school children, they can help influence the purchasing and eating behaviours of the whole family, bringing lessons learned in school to home life.

We sincerely hope that all Senators support this important effort towards the health of Canadian children and youth.

The audio recording of Senator Eggleton’s full presentation to the Senate can be accessed online (at time point 16:42:14) as can the transcript of the Senator's speech. Debate about this motion will take place during the next sitting of the Senate.

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