Vegetables and fruits are an important part of a healthy diet, but studies show that Canadians are not consuming adequate amounts.

If Canadians are not eating enough fruits and veggies, what are they eating and why?

The Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) is concerned that ultra-processed foods and beverages make up a large portion of the diets of children and youth, which can compromise health. Ultra-processed foods are commercially prepared foods that are typically high in sodium, sugar, or saturated fat, including fast food, sugary drinks, cookies, and chips.

Food insecurity (not enough money for food) makes it more challenging for families to access healthy options. Due to COVID-19, more families with children are experiencing food insecurity.

What can be done to help keep children healthy? OPHA’s Nutrition Connections centre recommends these four things to support children and families:

1. Improve food literacy:

Supporting food literacy opportunities that teach parents how to read food labels will help them make healthier choices for their families. Research from Nutrition Connections-OPHA and Ipsos shows that less than half (48%) of Ontario families report reading the nutrition label, and only 45% report reading the ingredients list.

2. Access the right information:

With Nutrition Connections-OPHA and Ipsos research showing that 49% of parents are looking for food and nutrition information for their families online, parents need to be able to navigate the complex information available, and identify reliable advice from health professionals such as registered dietitians, and organizations like local public health agencies and OPHA’s Nutrition Connections.

3. Eat together as a family:

A healthy eating environment, such as eating together with the family, is especially important for mindful eating and for children to learn from parents as role models. Eating as a family and away from TV and screens is associated with eating more vegetables and fruits and less sugary beverages. Nutrition Connections-OPHA and Ipsos research showed that in Ontario, 43% of families consumed meals and snacks at the kitchen or dining room table, but a sizable amount of eating and snacking happens in the family room or in front of the television or other screens.

4. Take Action On Food Insecurity:

Support policy interventions that improve the income of vulnerable households to effectively address food insecurity. Statistics Canada found that food insecurity increased during COVID-19 and was greater in households with children (19.2%) compared to those without children (12.2%). Food insecurity has a significant negative impact on physical and mental health.

OPHA’s Nutrition Connections is committed to promoting food literacy and healthy eating and raising awareness about policies needed to address food insecurity, in support of optimal health for all.

For references and to find other information on healthy eating, nutrition and food insecurity, visit NutritionConnections.ca

To learn more about OPHA, join, or donate to support OPHA’s charitable work, visit opha.on.ca

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