EDMONTON – Access to healthy food while at school is necessary to support children’s health, wellbeing, and educational achievement. Despite this fact, many young people across Alberta do not have consistent access to healthy food while at school for a variety of reasons, and many schools and the settings surrounding schools inundate children with less healthy food options that can make healthy choices difficult.
With students heading back to school this fall, now is a good time to consider how to create school food environments that best support our children.
Findings from a school food survey exploring principals’ perceptions of the school food environment were recently released by the Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention (APCCP), a coalition of 17 prominent health organizations from across Alberta. The survey was sent to 1350 Alberta principals and 363 principals completed the survey. In terms of key findings, 76% of survey respondents indicated that food-related policies were in place at their school and 40% indicated that a school lunch program was offered to students at their school. Fifty percent of survey respondents also indicated that long-term sustainable funding is not available for food programs and/or initiatives at their school, while 62% of survey respondents indicated that hunger relief in their school is addressed through the provision of emergency food by teachers. The survey was a partnership between the APCCP, Alberta Food Matters and University of Alberta researchers.
“Findings from the survey suggest that many schools across the province have taken significant steps to promote healthy school food. However, the survey also found indication that schools require more resources and financial support to consistently ensure healthy food environments,” said Kayla Atkey, APCCP policy analyst and Alberta Food Matters board member.
To ensure all children in Alberta have access to healthy food while at school, the APCCP is urging the Government of Alberta to lead the development of a Universal School Food Strategy. Key aspects of this strategy should include healthy meals and snacks, student involvement in the cultivation and preparation of food, education on the food system, and relationships with local producers when feasible. “Development of a Universal School Food Strategy could help to support the initiatives currently in place in Alberta schools and address gaps in school food policies and programming to ensure more students have access to healthy food while at school,” said Karen Boyd, APCCP member and Regional Executive Director for Dietitians of Canada.
According to the school food survey, 63% of survey respondents indicated that they are moderately or highly supportive of a Universal School Food Strategy for Alberta, funded by the government.
A Universal School Food Strategy aligns with the NDP’s 2015 election promise of phasing in a school lunch program in Alberta. “If such a program is funded, it should be universally available to all students at the school level to avoid the stigma associated with programs that target participation based on socio-economic status. It should also be established on health promoting principles and incorporate food education” notes Karen Boyd. “In addition, connecting to Alberta local producers when feasible could build relationships with the agricultural community and educate young people about where their food comes from.”
To arrange an interview: please contact Kayla Atkey at 780-492-0493.
- Karen Boyd, APCCP Member and Regional Executive Director, Dietitians of Canada, Alberta and the Territories Region
- Kayla Atkey, APCCP Policy Analyst
About the APCCP
The APCCP represents a broad range of practitioners, policy-makers, researchers and community organizations who have come together to coordinate efforts, generate evidence, and advocate for policy change to reduce chronic diseases in Alberta. For more information, visit the APCCP website: www.abpolicycoalitionforprevention.ca
- School Food Survey Final Report: Principals’ Perceptions of the School Food Environment in Alberta:http://abpolicycoalitionforprevention.ca/our-focus/surveys.html
- APCCP Issue Brief on a Universal School Food Strategy: http://abpolicycoalitionforprevention.ca/our-focus/apccp-priorities/healthy-eating-ibs.html