Aug. 15, 2018

Health experts call on government to improve access to healthier foods

Canadians encouraged to sign Calgary Statement to push for range of measures, including marketing restrictions and taxation of unhealthy foods

Members of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) are leading a call to action for all levels of government to prioritize policies aimed at increasing access to healthier foods in schools, restaurants and everywhere else food is purchased.

The group of health experts collaborated to develop the Calgary Statement — a set of guiding principles related to food policy to encourage healthy eating and reduce chronic disease. The statement is available for all Canadians to read and pledge to support on change.org.

“Unhealthy eating is one of the leading risks for death and disability in Canada, but we can change that,” says Dr. Norm Campbell, MD, a CSM professor and one of Canada’s leading experts in high blood pressure. “The Calgary Statement clarifies what a healthy diet looks like, and the types of policies necessary to support it. It’s of critical importance.”

The statement is based on the evidence presented by international experts and policy-makers at a national food policy forum, Canada’s Food Guide: A Healthier Canada Through Effective Nutrition Policy, jointly hosted by the O’Brien and Libin institutes in June.

Hasan Hutchinson, director general of the Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion at Health Canada, delivered a keynote address and discussed the federal government’s work to create a national food strategy and a new Food Guide, which is expected to be released this fall.

Dr. Dana Olstad, PhD, is a registered dietitian and an assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the CSM. Olstad says Canada’s revamped Food Guide will provide Canadians with information about what a healthy diet looks like. The Calgary Statement is about leveraging the revised Food Guide to encourage policy-makers to make healthier foods more accessible and affordable, particularly to children, those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged and those living in northern or remote communities.

“Our food environments shape our dietary patterns. If Canadians are surrounded by tasty, convenient and affordable healthy foods, they will eat them. Canadians are currently surrounded by unhealthy food environments where the tastiest, most convenient and affordable options are unhealthy,” says Olstad, who helped organize the forum. “We all have a stake in ensuring Canadians have equitable access to nutritious foods and food environments that promote healthy eating wherever we go. All Canadians should consider signing on.”

Norm Campbell is a professor in the departments of medicine, community health sciences, and physiology and pharmacology, and is a member of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta at CSM.

Dana Olstad is an assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at CSM, an adjunct academic professor at the University of Alberta and a member of the O’Brien and Libin institutes.