New Report Critical of the Canada Food Guide

Recently, the Senate of Canada released a report titled: “Obesity in Canada: A Whole Community Approach for a Healthier Canada”. This report represents an effort to shine light on the growing problem with the waistlines of Canadians. It also examines the role of the Canada Food Guide in the health of Canadians. Inside, the report highlights some dire facts:

  • 48,000-66,000 Canadians die each year from conditions linked to excess weight
  • Nearly 2/3 of Canadian adults and 1/3 of Canadian children are obese or overweight
  • The financial cost to Canada is $4.6-$7.1 billion dollars in health care and lost productivity

“Normal weight is no longer the norm. Excess body weight has been normalized in Canadian society”

– 2016 Senate Report on Obesity in Canada

It is known that obesity can lead to a variety of chronic health conditions. These include illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and certain cancers (breast, endometrial, colorectal, esophageal, gallbladder, kidney, liver, pancreas and uterine). This is why it is so concerning that more and more Canadians are classified as obese.

“Canadians must renew their efforts to eat healthy and to get active”

– 2016 Senate Report on Obesity in Canada

So, how did we get here? Obesity results from an imbalance between the amount of calories we consume and the amount of calories we use over a long-term basis. The report coined the term “obesogenic environment”: an environment that is too easy to eat poorly and remain sedentary. According to the report, approximately 62% of the standard Canadian diet can be categorized as processed and ready to eat food. This type of diet is high in refined carbohydrates and low in other nutrients (fibre, vitamins and minerals). At the same time, only 15% of adults, and 9% of children are actually getting an adequate amount of physical activity each week. Simply put: Canadians are eating too much calorie-rich/nutrient-poor food and do not get enough physical activity.

“Canada’s dated food guide is no longer effective in providing nutritional guidance to Canadians”

– 2016 Senate Report on Obesity in Canada

So who is to blame? Many critics of the Canada Food Guide believe it is the source of the problem, pointing out that the report states:

“Health Canada is responsible for creating and promoting its food guide, which is intended to help Canadians identify and choose a balanced and healthy diet. Since the creation of the Canada Food Guide, Canadians have been told to switch from a diet of a modest number of daily servings reflecting a balance of whole foods to a low fat diet that permits significantly more servings per day, a large proportion of which should be grain products, or carbohydrates. The committee was told that, as a result, the food guide may be recommending a diet that is nutritionally insufficient with respect to vitamins D and E, potassium and choline and that only by eating artificially fortified and highly-processed cereals can the diet provide adequate levels of calcium, iron and vitamin B12.”

That sure sounds bad for the Canada Food Guide, yet according to data from 2012, only 40% of Canadians are even meeting the current food guide’s lower recommended servings of fruit and vegetables per day! Despite all its flaws, the majority of Canadians do not eat “as well” as the “poor” standards set out in the current food guide. While the mandate of the Canada Food Guide is to recommend a healthy diet, individuals are ultimately responsible for what they choose to eat.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”

– Hippocrates

So what can be done to improve your health?

The report outlined some recommendations for public health officials to help improve Canada’s health on a national level. You can read them here. As an individual, here are some simple steps that you can take to improve your health:

Step 1: If you aren’t currently meeting Canada Food Guide daily-recommended servings of fruits and vegetables – start eating more fruits and veggies! The Canada Food Guide isn’t perfect, but if you aren’t even meeting the current recommendations, they are a good place to start.

Step 2: If you already meet the Canada Food Guide recommendations – eat more fruits and veggies! Reduce the amount of refined carbohydrates you eat. This is where we start to improve on the Canada Food Guide.

Step 3: Move towards creating healthy diet centered on whole foods, freshly prepared foods (preferably at home) and foods that have required only minimal processing (e.g.: dairy).

Step 4: Exercise more! The daily recommendations for physical activity are as follows:

180 minutes per day for toddlers and pre-schoolers

60 minutes a day for children and youth up to 17 years of age

150 minutes per week for adults (including some bone and muscle strengthening exercises)

Step 5: Limit screen time. The less you are sedentary, the better it is for your health.

Step 6: Get help! Changing a lifestyle can be extremely difficult. Include your friends and family for support. Consider seeking help from a Naturopathic Doctor.

It’s tempting to blame the Canadian Food Guide for the obesity problem in Canada, but ultimately it is up to each one of us to decide what we eat, and how we live. Many people find changing their lifestyles to be difficult, but it can be lot easier with the support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!