It’s alarming that Canada is the only G8 country without a national school meal program. Perhaps more alarming is that no one seems to care. We’ve been so busy condemning other countries over their obesity rates, and the American Congress’ declaration of pizza as a vegetable, that we’ve let 25 per cent of our children and teens become overweight or obese. And people can’t seem to agree on who is responsible for their wellbeing. If other health topics are the joint responsibility of the federal government, provincial government and parents, then nutrition should not be given special treatment.
School meal programs are meant to address a student body’s nutritional needs. Due to reasons ranging from poor nutritional awareness to busy schedules or poverty, children and teens often do not or cannot receive their daily nutritional requirements. A poor diet contributes to a wide range of health problems, from obesity to diabetes, while hunger contributes to poor school performance. Therefore, some provinces and schools have implemented several strategies, such as replacing soda and unhealthy snacks in vending machines or changing the food served in the cafeteria. The key to a meal plan is to provide students with a nutritionally balanced lunch.
However, only a few provinces and schools have adopted programs, and even these minorities could use some improvement. For example, the B.C. School Fruit & Vegetable Nutritional Program provides fresh fruit and vegetables to the province’s students every other week. While a noble endeavor in theory, it’s only a small band-aid for the bigger issue — unless Canada’s Food Guide received a revision that wasn’t made public. Or maybe we should be more concerned with the province’s math skills if it believes that feeding students every other week will help them meet their required four-eight servings per day.
Health Canada seems to believe that posting this guide and information about nutrition labels on their website provides the country with the federal government’s guidance on the matter. Health is a federal concern, but nutrition is apparently solely a provincial one. Nutrition should fit under the health umbrella. Even Americans have high-status advocates for national health, with several school meals plans in place and a desire for further growth in health and nutrition. We need a Michelle Obama — founder of the Let’s Move campaign — up here to give our government the wake-up call it needs.
Although this would stir up a whole new set of issues, there’s always the potential debate around our democracy and people’s rights. Who do politicians think they are, telling us what we can and cannot eat or feed to our children? I doubt Harper would send the KGB to your house because you made your child Kraft Dinner instead of a salad, but it would be easier if we were all in on a joint effort to promote healthy lifestyles to our youngsters. Instead of being a future drain on the health care system because of high cholesterol and multiple bypasses, children could just eat their daily fruits and veggies and put down that second cupcake.
The health of Canadian children and teens is not a provincial issue — at least, not entirely. The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to proper nutrition, and a national school meal program should be just the beginning. This is an issue that shouldn’t even need debate. A national program is needed.
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Talk on “commitment,” “excellence” and “unity” dominated Friday’s Board of Governors meeting, as members continue to address financial pressures and determine their next steps in the wake of the budget cut.