Healthy eating policies

person with fruits and vegetablesFood composition

Government systems to encourage processed foods and out-of-home meals are nutrient rich and of a healthy composition (e.g. limited sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar)

  • Voluntary reformulation of food by beverage manufacturers, such as using less sugar in products, decreases sugar-sweetened beverage intake
  • Voluntary reformulation of foods containing trans-fatty acids decreases unhealthy eating and reduces trans-fatty acid consumption
  • There is a need for primary studies to collect and report on data for diverse populations in differing contexts.

Provincial/territorial healthy eating policy analysis

  • The degree of policy adoption is LOW – no provincial/territorial policies target food composition at the manufacturer or retail level.
  • Currently, no provincial/territorial food composition policies directly relate to cancer prevention.
  • All provinces/territories are governed by the federal government’s Food and Drug Act, which bans the addition of certain foods, including hydrogenated oils.
  • Nine provincial/territorial policies regulate food composition in schools and limit the sales of food high in sodium, sugar and fat, including trans-fat (NL, NS, NB, PEI, SK, MB, BC, YT, ON) (infographic?)
  • British Columbia’s Healthier Choices in Vending Machines policy regulates vending machine sales to include foods that are low in sodium, sugar and fat in provincially operated buildings. (infographic?)

Municipal healthy eating policy analysis

  • The degree of policy adoption is LOW – only one municipal policy targets food composition.
  • Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges – Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood has implemented a Policy on Healthy Lifestyle which imposes a ban on selling food containing trans fats in municipal buildings – including food in vending machines and snack counters.

Opportunities for action

  • The LOW attention given to food composition policies across Canada does not have a great impact on healthy eating and cancer prevention.
  • Strengthening and broadening food composition policies could lead to individuals consuming healthier foods. Opportunities for policy action include:
    • Policies that ban trans-fats outside of schools including care facilities, recreational facilities, and government-owned buildings.
    • Policies that restrict foods that are high in sodium or sugar in community settings.

person with fruits and vegetablesFood labelling

Government regulatory system directing labelling on food packaging and menu boards to prevent misleading claims and enable consumers to make informed food choices.

  • Food labels help consumers make healthier eating choices.
  • Front-of-package labelling, including a traffic-light system, nutrient warnings, and symbol coding, improves healthy eating and healthier food selection, along with decreases calories, fat, trans-fatty acids, and unhealthy food consumption.
  • Nutrition labels in restaurant and food service settings decrease caloric intake, especially labels which provide contextual information.
  • Warning labels on sugar sweetened beverages reduces sales and consumption of these products.
  • There is a need for primary studies to collect and report data on intervention effects for diverse populations, such as vision-impaired consumers or those whose language differs from food labels.

Provincial/territorial healthy eating policy analysis  

  • The degree of policy adoption is LOW – despite several provincial/territorial policies governing food labeling as it relates to food safety and manufacturing practices, only Ontario has adopted food labeling policies for healthy eating requiring restaurants with multiple locations to list caloric information on menus for adults and children.
  • All provinces and territories are required to follow the pre-packaged food nutrition facts table requirements set by the federal government, including:
    • Serving/portion sizes
    • Caloric information
    • % Daily values for sugars, fats, and vitamins/minerals
  • No provincial/territorial policies mandate food labeling to specifically prevent cancer.

Municipal healthy eating policy analysis

  • The degree of policy adoption is LOW – no municipalities were found to have policies regulating food labeling and healthy eating.

Opportunities for action

  • The limited attention to food labelling policies at the provincial/territorial and municipal level represent a missed opportunity to educate and inform consumers. Stricter policies could be implemented to increase knowledge and inform healthy food choices.
  • Currently no policies are in place to inform consumers about healthy and unhealthy ingredients. The following policy directions should be considered:
  • Policies that mandate labels disclose the amount of added sugar or emphasize the amount of trans-fat
  • Food labeling policies that identify healthy menu options, based on fat, sugar, and sodium content.

Research with diverse populations from multiple settings is needed to better understand which interventions result in the most equitable cancer reduction outcomes.