Fruits, vegetables, and other foods are important for the healthy physical and mental development of children and youth. Yet an overwhelming number of young people—from preschool children to teenagers— are not eating enough nutritious foods needed for building strong bodies and minds. At the same time, consumption of foods high in salt, sugar, and fats is increasing. If nothing is done, the current generation of children will develop chronic illnesses much younger and be more affected as they age.
Preventable chronic diseases also threaten the sustainability of our health care system. For example, in 2009 the estimated direct and indirect costs associated with obesity cost Ontario $4.5 billion. Since poor diets are a major contributing factor to the problem, creating healthier food environments, and teaching children about better food options, are ways for local governments and school boards to promote healthy eating with little investment.
Educational institutions are well-positioned in our communities to positively impact the health of our children. Many have land for gardens and kitchen facilities that can be used for preparing food. Schools have an ability to innovate and excel at involving parents and the broader community in activities. Children also spend a significant amount of time at school, which creates ample opportunity to impact student food literacy and skills to improve unhealthy eating trends.