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Open letter - Equipping Our Children to Make Smart Food Choices

·3 min read

MONTREAL, Oct. 25, 2021 /CNW Telbec/ - The impact of good nutrition is well-known. It increases the likelihood of positive outcomes in all areas of children's and young adults' lives, from academics to sports, by enhancing their physical and intellectual performance. But even though this is a widely recognized truth, there is a chronic lack of comprehensive educational programs to equip students with the knowledge and tools they need to make the right food choices at both the K-12 and post-secondary levels.

There are still too many students skipping meals, snacking on ultra processed foods, or relying on caffeinated drinks rather than a well-balanced diet to enhance their mental sharpness. As a group of experts in nutrition, professionals of the education industries, professional athletes, and also as parents, we feel very strongly about this issue and believe there is an urgent need for coordinated, proactive measures by decisionmakers in the education field, ourselves included.

At present, Canada's Food Guide, produced by the federal government and used by educators and health professionals, is the only tool to help families and children understand the importance of good nutrition. As valuable as this guide is, it is not enough on its own. It is a single source of information competing with many other, less reliable sources, especially social media, that contain misinformation, errors, gaps and even lies.

The messaging in Canada's Food Guide needs to be reinforced and enhanced with complementary tools and programs that educate students on healthy eating. To provide them with a platform to succeed academically and socially, they need to be informed about the links between nutrition choices and physical or intellectual activity, so that they can make the right choice about what to eat based on what they're doing, and the time of day when they're doing it. This will ensure that they will not deplete themselves of essential nutrition and can stay alert and active all day long without becoming tired or burning out over time.

It's not just a question of succeeding in class and on the playing field—it's also about self-esteem and mental well-being. Eating right can mitigate fluctuations in mood, from "feeling down" to more serious issues such as anxiety and depression, that have a negative impact on young people's self-image, social integration, confidence and more.

Over the past couple of years, with many activities that positively influence mental health, such as sports and social groups, temporarily suspended due to the pandemic, good eating has become even more important. In recognition of this, St. Francis Xavier University had a dedicated sports dietitian on site whose focus was to support the institution's athletes. Ideally, this kind of nutrition-oriented support should be available to all students, all the time.

It's time for Canada's policymakers and stakeholders in the field of education to address the lack of nutrition support in our country with targeted initiatives based on the latest food science and nutritional standards that meet the needs of diverse students, parents and schools at each level. We must work together to make sure our youth are informed about the benefits of good food and the consequences of poor choices—because eating right will fuel their success and help them become their best selves, whatever path they choose.

Melissa Hardy, sports dietitian, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, pro football player, medical student and spokesperson for Imagine by Sodexo Canada

Isabelle Huot, PhD in nutrition and Quebec spokesperson for Mindful by Sodexo Canada
Martin Lapointe, Senior Vice President of Operation, Education Programs, at Sodexo Canada and dietitian



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