NEW BRUNSWICK TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL: Earlier this month the New Brunswick government unveiled its new “Healthier School Food Environment” policy at a news conference in Fredericton. At the news conference, Health Minister Brian Kenny listed a long list of food items that will now be prohibited from being served, or sold, at school.
Minister Kenny explained that the purpose behind the changes were to “teach children and youth what a proper meal looks like and encourage them to live a healthy lifestyle.” The list of food products that will now be prohibited from school cafeterias, before-school breakfast programs, lunch programs and school-sanctioned events include the following: chocolate milk, 100-per cent fruit juice, all sugar-sweetened beverages, all non-sugar sweetened beverages, cheese slices, bologna, hot dogs, pepperoni and even flavoured water.
If your childhood was anything like mine, that list looks like pretty much everything we loved as a child. Although childhood obesity is a problem – especially in New Brunswick where 36 per cent of kids are overweight – these food changes take the healthy lifestyle crusade too far.
First, it prohibits food items that have legitimate nutritional value. Beverages like 100-per cent fruit juice and chocolate milk actually serve a nutritional purpose for the developing mind and body of young students. The New Brunswick government is seeking to significantly limit access to fruit juice, despite the fact that over 70 per cent of Canadian children fail to meet their daily recommended serving of fruits and vegetables.
What further complicates this is that children and youth often rely on 100-per cent fruit juice for their servings of fruits and vegetables, so much so that 41 per cent of their average fruit and vegetable intake comes from 100-per cent juice products.
Without the juice, children may not get enough fruit and vegetables in their diet, and now the province wants to significantly limit access to the food product that is most popular for fruit consumption. Once these two facts are realized, it becomes quite clear that this new food policy is only going to exacerbate the daily serving problem.
Second, the province’s guidelines are filled with glaring hypocrisies.
For example, 100-per cent apple juice is prohibited, but 100-per cent apple sauce is on the list of encouraged food items. What is the difference between the two products? Almost nothing, except for the fact that one product is pressed, and the other is mashed. Making distinctions like this is incredibly silly.
The government’s policy also prohibits zero-calorie substitute beverages. Health officials have explained that they are trying to curb the amount of sugar that young people ingest, especially from drinks like pop. But in trying to combat pop, they have also declared war on healthier substitutes such as zero-calorie, zero-sugar, pop.
They’ve also taken this one step further by adding all flavoured water, vitamin water and sports drinks to the ban list as well. While one might understand the desire to curb youth consumption of full-calorie pop, it makes no sense to also curb the consumption of these healthier, zero-calorie, zero-sugar, alternatives.
The extent of the hypocrisy is evident on the government’s own food and beverage requirement document. In their explanation for their restrictions, they feature a glass of water with a lemon wedge, which is actually now prohibited given that even naturally flavoured water made the “ban list.”
The last reason why the province’s health policy is heavy handed is that for many of these food items, there isn’t evidence to suggest that this change will have a meaningful impact. For example, Health Canada admits in its own Food Guide Evidence Review that the suggestion fruit juice intake is linked to obesity isn’t backed by evidence. The reason why the evidence is not convincing is intuitive when you consider that beverages, of all kinds, account for less than six per cent of the average Canadian’s daily caloric intake.
When you remove full-calorie pop, and just look at 100-per cent fruit juice, that number drops to less than three per cent. Simply put, Canadians, and more specifically children, don’t consume enough of these products for a policy like this to have any significant impact on total caloric intake.
Having our children lead healthier lives is as noble a goal as any out there. That said, it’s immediately clear that New Brunswick’s new nutrition policy takes this aim way too far.
David Clement is the Toronto-based North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center.