The Medicine Hat Mini Nutrition Report Card
Good food and nutrition are essential to promoting the health of children and youth. Healthy eating promotes child growth and development, learning, and the prevention of chronic diseases that were once believed to affect only adults, such as type 2 diabetes. However, healthy eating is more than an individual choice; it is strongly influenced by the environments in which we live, learn, work and play. Unfortunately, while children learn about healthy eating in school, vending machines contain pop and candy, hot lunches consist of fast food and fundraisers sell chips and chocolate, sending mixed messages to children.
The aim of the Alberta Nutrition Report Card is to understand the food environments, assess how they impact choices, and engage stakeholders to ensure the food environments provide and support healthy choices. South zone public health dietitians have partnered with the University of Alberta and community agencies to create our own local community report cards to help make the healthy choice the easy choice in our local settings. Some of the settings included in the Medicine Hat mini Nutrition Report Card are child cares, schools, recreation centres, and public buildings; all places where children and youth are found.
Below are a few of the indicators we assessed for schools. Grades are based on a benchmark which is a standard or minimum requirement against which performance is measured.
The availability of foods in schools – the benchmark is that 75% of the foods available are healthy. On average, from the local schools assessed, foods and beverages provided in elementary schools were 57% healthy, junior highs were 37% healthy, and high schools were 42%. Provincial Grade: C, Medicine Hat grade: C.
- Food skills education – the benchmark is that food skills education is required, not optional at the junior high level. Provincial Grade: D, Medicine Hat grade: D, We received this grade as only 1 out of the 3 middle schools assessed had foods skills education as a required course for grades 7 – 9 students.
- Weight bias is avoided – the benchmark is that weight bias is explicitly addressed in schools (and childcares). Provincial grade: D, Medicine Hat grade: F. Only 3 schools indicated that weight bias was covered in school curriculum.
- Subsidized fruit and vegetable programs in schools – the benchmark is that children in elementary schools receive a free or subsidized fruit or vegetable each day. Provincial grade: C+, Medicine Hat grade: C. This grade was helped by the fact that half of the elementary schools have daily subsidized or free fruit/vegetable programs for their students.
In addition to the findings, our report card has identified several important recommendations to help promote healthy food environments; several of which have already begun to take shape! For example, schools can:
- include the Food Bank as a partner when sourcing out fruits and vegetables for their school programs (and fruit and vegetable programs are a good addition to meal programs or alternative when funds do not allow the full meal program)
- collaborate with AHS Public Health Dietitians and School Health Promotion Facilitators to find healthier options for cafeterias, vending, fundraising, hot lunches and school events.
To read the entire document which includes the background, findings, and recommendations for improvement, go to bit.ly/MHNRC2018-19. Discuss the report card with your school administrators, staff, and school wellness teams to see what exciting opportunities for change you can work on in the upcoming school years.
Submitted by Pat MacIntosh, Registered Dietitian with Alberta Health Services