Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nova Scotia's School Food Policy

Working on an editorial with Dr. Rob Stevenson (hospital cafeteria crusading cardiologist out in Halifax) I have had the opportunity to review Nova Scotia's School Food Policy and for the most part, I've got nice things to say.

Unfortunately almost by definition the policy will have to follow Canada's Food Guide and consequently there are bound to be flaws and while I do have some issues with the specific foods mentioned in the accompanying document Food and Beverage Standards for Nova Scotia Public Schools (a fat-phobic, juice loving, calorie-ignorant document), the policy statement clearly shows both caring and thought.

Here's some of Nova Scotia's progressive thinking,

  • "School food and beverages should be served and sold primarily for the purposes of providing nutrition rather than for revenue generation"

  • "The business world is keenly aware of the potential to build preferences and cultivate brand loyalty by targeting schools that house a captive and impressionable audience of future consumers. Partnerships between schools and businesses can be mutually beneficial. However such partnerships work best when designed to meet identified health and educational needs rather than commercial motives"

  • "Schools will not use deep fat fryers to prepare food"

  • "When possible, schools should integrate nutrition education into other subject areas and activities beyond the classroom."

  • "School schedules should recognize that students need nourishment every 3-4 (I recommend 2-3) hours, based upon the time they would have last had an opportunity to eat. For example, students may benefit from a 10 minute break to eat a snack scheduled separately from recess, if possible."

  • "Effective September 2006, school staff and volunteers will not use food as a reinforcer or withhold food from students as a consequence."
  • But it's certainly not without warts and while certainly worthy of praise, there are two large areas where I feel Nova Scotia dropped the ball: They don't put a limitation on juice, despite calls from both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society to limit its consumption, and they recommend that children wait until they're hungry to eat.

    As I've noted in this blog many times before, waiting until you're hungry to eat is not necessarily a great plan. We make different choices when we're hungry, both in terms of dietary content and quantity. If you don't believe me, head to a supermarket hungry or go to a restaurant hungry and compare your purchases and meals to going back on days you're not hungry. Good thing the policy includes snacking as consequently the likelihood of real hunger is markedly diminished through the use of snacks.

    Me, I believe wholeheartedly in eating pre-emptively to avoid hunger rather than trying to outsmart over a hundred million years of evolution that has taught my body that if I'm hungry and I don't eat a lot, the ice age will get me.

    All in all though, some forward looking thinking and free-from-industry recommendations.

    Kudos to Nova Scotia.