Healthy eating policies

Food prices

  • shopping basket with groceries and wallet with money and couponsFood prices, as a policy action, refer to policies that lower the consumer cost of food and help make healthy eating choices easier, cheaper, and more accessible.
  • Price discounts and subsidies increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables, healthy snacks, and healthy beverages.
  • Price increases and taxation of unhealthy foods reduce consumption of sugar-added foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Government incentive interventions for low-income families, such as government funding to priority schools and individual cash transfers, increases fruit and vegetable consumption and decreases sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, especially among adolescents.
  • Minimum price interventions – such as price baselines for unhealthy food options – are needed to modify behaviour.
  • Food insecure individuals highlight the challenge of purchasing healthy food choices while stretching a limited food budget to feed their families.
  • Future research and policy needs to reflect barriers and facilitators to accessing food subsidy programs across diverse population groups – particularly those most likely to under-utilize available programs.

Health Canada’s National Nutritious Food Basket is a helpful tool used to monitor the cost and affordability of healthy eating.

Provincial/territorial healthy eating policy analysis

The degree of policy adoption is MEDIUM – most provinces and territories have policies related to food prices, including a nation-wide tax exemption for certain groceries and prepared food items. However, policies that regulate food prices specific to cancer prevention do not exist in any province/territory.

Examples of policies include the following:

  • The federal Excise Tax Act applies federal, harmonized, and/or provincial/territorial sales tax to some unhealthy foods, such as soft drinks or fruit drinks with less than 25% natural fruit juice, candy, potato chips, and packaged processed foods.
  • In Ontario, prepared foods sold for under $4.00 are exempt from HST.
  • To deter individuals from choosing sugary beverages, Newfoundland and Labrador has implemented a sales tax on these products designed to disincentivize unhealthy foods and promote healthy food purchases.
  • Food affordability has been addressed through several provincial policies:

muffin and sandwich

In Ontario, prepared foods sold for under $4 are exempt from HST

Municipal healthy eating policy analysis

The degree of policy adoption is MEDIUM – a few municipalities have outlined policies to make healthy food more accessible and affordable and several communities have outlined plans to increase food security.

Examples of policies include the following:

COVID-19 maskCOVID-19

The pandemic has reversed two decades of improved nutrition and food security globally, with children being particularly vulnerable to negative impacts.1

light bulbOpportunities for action

To increase healthy eating across provincial/territorial and municipal jurisdictions, policy direction could include:

  • Expanding tax policies on unhealthy food and beverages to encourage healthier diet choices, noting tax policies must include equity considerations for low-income populations and those experiencing food insecurity.
  • Implementing additional policies that govern food prices – including those that subsidize healthy food options – as they can make healthy eating options more accessible.
  1. World Bank. (2021). Food and Nutrition under the COVID-19 Crisis: Lessons for Protecting the Vulnerable and Facilitating Recovery.