Canada needs a national school breakfast program to ensure kids can pay attention in class and learn to their potential, says Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan.
“Canada is the only industrialized country without such a program,” the Ontario MP told the Commons health committee. “If kids are hungry, they can’t learn.”
Such programs are highly effective, said Duncan, who was involved with a school breakfast program in Toronto before she entered politics.
“Too many kids go to school hungry and that affects their ability to learn as well as their long-term health.”
Ottawa helps fund 440 community- based programs across the country to promote healthy eating, said Kim Elmslie, director general of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control at the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“We’re in the early stages of talking with the provinces on what we should do,” she said.
But there’s been no discussion of or support for school breakfast programs, she added.
“We’ve received no requests for them, either.”
The provinces control education and have moved to ban junk food from school cafeterias and vending machines. Still to come is a concerted education program for young people, officials said.
Duncan said health officials should look at what school breakfast programs have accomplished in the United States.
NDP MP Carol Hughes supported Duncan.
“It’s crucial to get a healthy breakfast program launched for schoolkids,” said Hughes. “We also have to make sure social assistance rates are high enough to support a healthy diet.”
The committee has launched a study on healthy living, which will focus on food issues and other factors that influence health.
But diet and related health issues are clearly at the top of the agenda for MPs.
Conservative MP Patricia Davidson said the government needs to clear up the confusion caused by a lack of standardized serving sizes on the nutrition facts box required on all packaged foods. They were required several years ago to help consumers select the most nutritious foods, but making comparisons among products is almost impossible, she said.
“I get complaints all the time about the lack of standard servings,” she said.
Health Canada is working on that problem, said Samuel Godefroy, director general of the department’s Food Directorate.
“We don’t want levels of sodium in products to appear similar because one company uses a smaller serving size,” he said. “We’ve asked the food industry for ideas on how to fix the serving size issue.”
Davidson said the department should also put more effort into educating the public on how to interpret the nutrition facts box.