The majority of food and beverages sold at recreation facilities in New Brunswick is unhealthy and that needs to change, according to a working group’s report on the issue.
The New Brunswick Healthy Eating in Recreation Settings Working Group recently conducted an audit of vending machines and operations at the province’s arenas, pools, gyms and other facilities to see what kind of food was on offer.
The group released its findings on Tuesday. The report found 87 per cent of food and 66 per cent of beverages sold in vending machines fell into the “do not sell” category, as classified by the The Brand Name Food List.
The BNFL is an online tool that uses nutrient criteria to score packaged products based on their nutritional value. “Do not sell” items are considered unhealthy and include potato chips and pop.
The working group is the result of previous efforts by the provincial government to improve food options in recreation facilities and comes after a push to provide healthier food options for children in school.
The group’s work was funded by the provincial Department of Social Development and Employment and Social Development Canada. Its members include representatives from provincial medical organizations, recreation organizations and health advocacy groups.
Spokesperson and retired physician, Linda Dalpé, said the group hopes to convince parents to keep an eye on the food their children consume, and to ask vendors for healthier options.
“We need to improve the environments where kids play because active living and physical activity goes hand in hand with healthy eating when we think about our health in general, and how to become healthier adults and living a good life,” she told Shift New Brunswick.
“If there’s no healthy food options then it’s almost impossible to choose the healthier option when it’s not there.”
Recreation facilities are cornerstones of many families’ lives, she said, noting the impact of unhealthy food options extends beyond the kids playing, to their parents and siblings tagging along to practices and games.
The report cited data from the New Brunswick Health Council stating the province is one of Canada’s least healthy, with 36 per cent of children and 28 per cent of youth overweight or obese. Only about half of children (49 per cent), youth (46 per cent) and adults (51 per cent) are eating the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Municipalities are able to make changes and some already have policies in place that force vendors to offer healthy options, Dalpé said, but more needs to be done to get kids eating healthier.
‘There’s so much effort put into choosing our child’s equipment and we need to do the same when we choose their food, which is their fuel, because healthy food is part of our kids’ equipment for life.’— Linda Dalpé
Youth are the biggest consumers of sugary drinks in Canada, Dalpé said, and it’s the single largest contributor to their diets right now.
“This excessive sugar consumption is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer,” Dalpé said.
“The sooner we can start creating healthy environments for our kids to learn and play, the better for them.”
The group has already had some success getting parents and venues to change their food habits, Dalpé said, and hopes to initiate larger change across the province.
“There’s so much effort put into choosing our child’s equipment and we need to do the same when we choose their food, which is their fuel, because healthy food is part of our kids’ equipment for life.”