How to reduce dietary inequities in Canada

An image of a man eating a burger.
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How can the challenge of reducing dietary inequities in Canada be addressed? The CMAJ has published a paper on how to address the root cause.

The analysis in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) argues that a broad approach which combines nutrition with social policies is required to address the dietary inequities.

Dietary inequities are the differences in the quality of diet between people of lower and higher socioeconomic statuses. People with lower socioeconomic status tend to have a poorer quality of diet, which is defined as eating fewer fresh vegetables and fruits, than people with a higher socioeconomic status.

Policies to improve nutrition in Canada

Dr. Dana Lee Olstad, Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Alberta, addressed whether policies such as putting nutrition facts tables on packaged foods and Canada’s Food Guide are able to address dietary inequities. Dr Olstad commented: “Such policies are unlikely to substantially improve diet quality in Canada, particularly among individuals with a lower social position, because they do not address the root causes of poor diet quality in daily life…For example, even if warning labels are put on unhealthy foods, lower-income Canadians may still purchase them because of lower cost if healthier options are unaffordable.”

Will bold policy measures reduce dietary inequities?

Dr Olstad and the coauthors wrote: “[W]e propose that the next phase of action to improve the quality of Canadians’ diets should concentrate on partnerships with nonhealth actors on bold policy measures to address the social determinants of health, along with equity-oriented nutrition policies. Some of the most powerful policies will be those that improve economic security, reduce precarious employment and ensure access to postsecondary education regardless of ability to pay.”

The authors suggest that by addressing the social determinants of dietary inequities alongside nutrition, and implementing policies related to health, taxation, and housing,  Canada can be a world leader in health promotion.

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