Revisions in the works for Canada’s Food Guide

(Dave Bedard photo)

Health Canada is planning changes to one of its key policy documents to reflect how Canadians’ diets are generally coming up short in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk and milk alternatives.

At the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Montreal on Monday, the federal health department launched a 45-day public consultation on changes to Canada’s Food Guide, noting it needs to “strengthen how we communicate our advice” to Canadians.

Said advice includes replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat, which it said is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. It also noted a higher intake of sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to an increased risk of obesity in children.

The department said its evidence review also shows about 30 per cent of calories Canadians consume come from foods high in fat, sugars and sodium. Certain nutrients, such as calcium and fibre, are also “widely under-consumed.”

The revisions, Health Canada said, will be made “to reflect the latest scientific evidence on diet and health, and to better support Canadians, including Indigenous peoples, in making healthy food choices.”

The public consultation will run online until December 8, “to determine how Health Canada can provide better dietary guidance that meets the needs of Canadians.”

The Food Guide, last updated in 2007, has served as Health Canada’s “all-in-one” policy and education tool used by health professionals, governments and other stakeholders to support individuals’ health, set guidelines and policies for settings such as schools and daycares, and develop nutrition education programming.

However, Health Canada, in its review, has found the Food Guide “is not meeting the needs of all audiences.” Most Canadians are aware of it, but health professionals report Canadians “find it hard to interpret and apply the advice in their daily lives.”

Furthermore, Health Canada said, it has found “an all-in-one tool doesn’t work for everyone. Some stakeholders want more detail, while others want only simple information.”

Health Canada’s upcoming revision of the Guide will also include updates to its version of the Food Guide for First Nations, Inuit and Metis, the government said.

Input from the consultation period will go to develop new “dietary guidance tools that better meet the needs of different audiences,” followed by testing of those new tools in 2017-18, and a rollout of “updated dietary guidance” in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

“Everyone can agree that eating well, staying active and living a healthy lifestyle are important to reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes,” Health Minister Jane Philpott said in a release.

“Our government’s actions are aimed at ensuring positive and meaningful impacts on the overall health of Canadians for generations to come.”

The plans for Food Guide revisions are part of a larger federal “healthy living strategy,” which is also expected to include changes to federal nutrition labelling regulations, to be finalized by the end of this year.

The proposed nutrition label changes include new regulations on serving sizes, to make it easier to compare similar products; requirements that all food colours be identified by their common names; and allowing a new health claim that links a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with a lower risk of heart disease.

The department also proposes a new “front-of-package” labelling approach to simplify information about food products’ levels of sugars, sodium and saturated fat.

The department said Monday it also plans to engage with food industry stakeholders, starting in the spring, to establish “new targets” for sodium levels in processed and restaurant foods.

It said it also plans to engage the public and stakeholders “over the coming weeks” to seek input on a proposed approach to eliminate industrially-produced trans fat in foods available in Canada.

The department also noted it will hold “expert round tables” this fall on proposals to restrict the marketing of certain “unhealthy foods and beverages” to children.

“The healthy living strategy announced today will have a real impact on protecting the health of Canadian families,” Mary Lewis, vice-president for research, advocacy and health promotion with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said Monday in a separate release.

“We are happy to see so many key public health priorities reflected in the strategy, including making the Food Guide more digestible for Canadians.” — Network

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