Fruits, vegetables, and other foods are important for the healthy physical and mental development of children and youth, yet they are disproportionately affected by food insecurity and consume high levels of highly processed food. As a result, they are developing chronic diseases at a younger age.
An overwhelming number of young people—from preschool children to teenagers—are not eating enough nutritious foods needed for building strong bodies and minds. At the same time, consumption of foods high in salt, sugar, and fats is increasing. If nothing is done, the current generation of children will develop chronic illnesses much younger and be more affected as they age. 1 Preventable chronic diseases also threaten the sustainability of our health care system. Since poor diets are a major contributing factor to health problems, creating healthier food environments and teaching children about better food options is one way for local governments and school boards to promote healthy eating that requires little investment.
Children and youth are over-represented among food insecure individuals in Canada. 2 Despite efforts already being made to provide better access to food for families, some children continue to suffer from food insecurity and malnourishment. Although there are several good school nutrition programs operating in the country, Canada is the only G7 country without a national school nutrition program.
There is an enormous imperative for improving eating habits among children and youth since students who eat better perform better. Arriving to class on time and ready to learn positively impacts student success, and in turn, impacts the vitality and culture of our communities. 3 Since food education reconnects individuals to how food is grown and produced, building healthy school food environments sets students on a path for becoming more active participants in decisions about the food system as consumers, parents, and decision-makers later in life.
Educational institutions are well-positioned in our communities to positively impact the health of our children. Many have land for gardens and kitchen facilities that can be used for preparing food. Schools have an ability to innovate and excel at involving parents and the broader community in activities. Children also spend a significant amount of time at school, which creates ample opportunity to impact student food literacy and skills to improve unhealthy eating trends.