Submitted by Barb Prud’homme
The Nutrition Resource Centre (NRC) has developed a summary of what we believe are some of the most influential highlights and news stories from the field of healthy eating and nutrition from 2015. Here’s what we found:
Consumption of products high in added sugar was discouraged
In recent years, there has been growing concern over the amount of sugar consumed by Canadians. With some findings linking excessive sugar intake to an overconsumption of calories, this, in turn could lead to obesity and associated chronic diseases. In 2015, major organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spoke out against excessive sugar intake, calling for limits on daily consumption of free sugar to less than 10% of total daily calories consumed. Health Canada has also proposed nutrition label changes (http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/health-system-systeme-sante/consultations/...) – including a % daily value for sugar – that would help consumers identify products that contain a lot of added sugar. With the proposed changes, there remains some concern (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/new-nutrition-facts-panels-...), however, that the label still does not provide information about the amount of free sugars added to products.
Food prices rose
The Food Institute in Guelph forecasts that food price increases will exceed the general inflation rate in Canada (https://www.uoguelph.ca/foodinstitute/system/files/Food%20Price%20Report...), costing the average household an extra $345 in 2016. Much of the cause for this rise has been attributed to the low value of the Canadian dollar (https://www.uoguelph.ca/foodinstitute/system/files/Food%20Price%20Report...). Another factor predicted to affect food prices is climate change, according to the Food Institute study. In 2015, droughts, which reached records in some areas of the Canadian prairies, resulted in lower hay crops and less grazing area for cattle (http://www.rcinet.ca/en/2015/07/07/climate-change-your-food-will-cost-mo...). More studies are showing that changes in traditional climate patterns are affecting food prices, (http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/12/04/3728124/climate-change-puts-...) thereby contributing to food insecurity.
Food insecurity in Canada rose
In 2015, many more Canadians experienced difficulty buying healthy food. According to a 2014 report published by PROOF (http://nutritionalsciences.lamp.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/f...), a research group looking at effective policy approaches to reduce food insecurity in Canada, 12.6 per cent of Canadian (http://nutritionalsciences.lamp.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/H...) households representing 2.8 million adults and 1.15 million children under the age of 18 experienced some level of food insecurity. Some food insecure Canadians bought cheaper, less-nutritious food or skipped meals on occasion. The number of food insecure Canadians is likely to grow as the cost of living (including food costs) continues to rise. Food insecurity can have a profound effect on people’s health, (http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2015/08/10/cmaj.150234.full.pdf+html) and some feel that there is a lack of awareness of the magnitude of the problem (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/food-insecurity-a-heavy-cos...) in Canada.
Food waste was put in the spotlight
Rising food costs and alarming reports that Canadians throw away 29% of their food post-purchase (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/david-suzuki/cost-of-food-waste_b_8254186.html) are making people more aware of what they have, and how to use it before it ends up in the trash. It was estimated that food waste in Canada is costing $31 billion a year, (food-waste-at-record-levels-as-other-canadians-go-hungry) and that the biggest source of waste are households (http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/about-us/publications/economic-publications/alp...). Some strides were taken to help with the problem: in Vancouver, household composting of food scraps was made mandatory (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/metro-vancouver-apartment...) for all homes, apartment buildings, restaurants, grocery chains and all institutions serving food. The selling of imperfect fruits and vegetables (http://www.thestar.com/life/food_wine/2015/03/12/loblaws-sells-ugly-frui...) and “nose to tail” cooking in restaurants also became growing trends 2015. Food waste champions suggest that building awareness and, potentially, a national food waste strategy (http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/how-to-solve-the-food-waste-problem/) would help.
Menu labelling legislation was passed
In July, Ontario became the first province to pass a menu labelling bill: Making Healthier Choices Act (Bill 45) (http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/bills/bills_detail.do?BillID=3080). Ontario is hoping that having calorie counts prominently displayed will discourage consumers from selecting unhealthy foods (http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=8751ce7e2b322410...). Effective January 1, 2017, the Making Healthier Choices Act will require all food service premises with 20 or more locations (including restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores) to display calorie information on menus and menu boards (https://news.ontario.ca/mohltc/en/2015/05/helping-ontarians-make-informe...). Prior to the introduction of Bill 45, food service establishments only posted or provided nutrition information on a voluntary basis. In response to the passing of the Bill, some health experts argued that information about the sodium content of foods should also be displayed (http://www.citynews.ca/2015/01/19/health-board-urging-province-to-implem...) because high salt intake increases the risk of developing heart disease. Reducing the amount of sodium consumed by Canadians could reduce the number of strokes and heart attacks per year and save health care resources.
Meat took heat
In October, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a report concerning the potential cancer-causing effect of consuming red and processed meat (http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/meat-cancer-world-health-organization-1.32...). According to IARC findings, the risk for colon cancer increases by 17–18% with daily consumption of 100g of red meat and 50g of processed meat, respectively. Consumption of red and processed meat is also associated with increased risk for other cancers, including pancreatic, prostate and stomach. The organization encouraged people to limit their consumption of red meat to about three servings per week (http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/processed-meat-can-cause-colon-cancer-world...) and avoid processed meats.
“Body Positivity” movement advanced
Public concern over weight bias and “fat shaming” led to greater demand for the public acceptance of diverse body shapes and sizes. In 2015, body-positive activism (http://www.bustle.com/articles/127288-21-most-body-positive-moments-of-2... was a prominent theme in the media. Consumers voiced their disapproval about stigmatizing weight-related messages that suggest there is something inherently wrong with people with obesity. Body positive consumers do not believe that body shaming motivates people to change their habits or lose weight. They believe that people want to be inspired to live healthfully without the assumption that certain sizes are inherently better than others.
Interest in urban agriculture grew
There has been increased curiosity among both producers and consumers about how to maximize the use of urban spaces to grow food. Urban agriculture allows for greater interaction between producers and consumers, and people are becoming increasingly accepting of food grown in cities. Urban gardens continued to grow during 2015, with some truly unique projects (http://foodtank.com/news/2015/07/urban-farms-and-gardens-are-feeding-cit...) and many hundreds of community garden plots, gardens in schools and on university campuses across Canada.
The FDA banned most uses of trans fat
In June 2015, the FDA ruled that trans fat is not "generally recognized as safe" (http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/16/health/fda-trans-fat/) for use in human food. The federal agency gave food manufacturers three years to remove the partially hydrogenated oils from their products. The FDA says the move will reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year. The move was applauded, but raised questions like “what else in our food may be harming us?” Further research is needed to help us understand the potential harms of the food we are currently eating. In Canada, current Health Canada (http://hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/gras-trans-fats/index-eng.php) regulations limit trans fat content to 2% in vegetable oil and margarine and 5% for all other foods. Since 2005 the organization has also been performing a national assessment of prepackaged and restaurant foods that likely contain trans fats. While progress has been made, 25% of food products in Canada still contain significant amounts of trans fats (http://www.heartandstroke.com/site/c.ikIQLcMWJtE/b.3799313/k.C112/Positi...). Recent research has found that the daily trans fat intake in Canada is still above the World Health Organization recommended limit (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19916364), which suggests that the food industry in Canada may to introduce formal regulations to reduce the trans fat content in products and protect the health of Canadians.
Consumers demand increased for minimally processed foods
An increasing number of consumers were willing to pay more for minimally processed foods and healthier options in 2015, and the rising demand shows no sign of slowing. As a result, industry has made efforts to reformulate products to meet consumer demand. PepsiCo, for example, replaced the aspartame in Diet Pepsi with sucralose (http://www.bbc.com/news/health-32478203), and Kraft removed artificial dyes from its Macaroni and Cheese (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/kraft-removing-artificial-dyes-preservatives...). Other companies like General Mills, Nestle, and Campbell also vowed to remove artificial ingredients (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/11-companies-that-plan-to-remove-art...) from all or some of their products in response to consumer demand. Consumers were, and will likely continue to be, more motivated to purchase products they believe are aligned with health and well-being, such as products devoid of artificial ingredients, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or pesticides.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership was announced
On October 5, 2015, Canada, the United States, Mexico and nine other countries – together representing more than 40 per cent of the global economy – announced the conclusion of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. According to industry observers, Canadian consumers outside Quebec could see lower dairy prices. Groups representing dairy farmers are concerned that the deal could result in lost revenues (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/10/05/tpp-deal-could-reduce-dairy-pric...) for farmers and the Canadian economy.
Funded research took a hit
In 2015, we witnessed the continuation in an ongoing debate regarding the relationship between academia and industry with respect to addressing the growing obesity epidemic. While some argue that financial support from industry augments public health funding and could help to involve private industry in collaborative solutions to diet-related disease, others argue that industry-involvement leads to bias in research and conflicts of interest. During the Fall, a group called the Global Energy Balance Network, led by scientists and created by Coca-Cola, was disbanded after months of pressure (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/298062.php) from public health authorities who said that the group’s mission was to underplay the link between soft drinks and obesity. The American Society for Nutrition and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marty-kaplan/the-national-academy-of-sugar...) have also been criticized for forming partnerships (http://www.marketing-interactive.com/coca-cola-pays-scientists-argue-sof...) with food companies such as Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Hershey’s.
The NRC would like to thank you for your support during 2015, and we look forward to keeping you informed about developments and hot topics in healthy eating and nutrition in 2016 and beyond! If you have any questions, comments, or thoughts, do not hesitate to get in touch with the NRC at [email protected].
T--he NRC team