Most Waterloo Region residents don't meet food guidelines: report

Only 3 out of every 1000 people in the region meet healthy eating guidelines set out by Health Canada.
Researchers find that people in Waterloo Region have more access to unhealthy foods and beverages than healthy foods. (

Most Waterloo region residents are not meeting Canadian nutrition guidelines, according to a new report commissioned by the Region of Waterloo. 

Researchers found that only 3 out of every 1000 people in the region met the healthy eating guidelines set out by Health Canada. 

"It's a fairly shocking number, especially because 75 per cent of Canadians think they eat a good or excellent-quality diet," said Leia Minaker, one of the researchers and a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo. 

"But actually the Canadian average is about 0.5 per cent, so five out of every thousand, so we're pretty close to the national average," she told Craig Norris  in an interview on The Morning Edition Wednesday. 

A total of 1,170 people in region recorded everything they ate for two days in food diaries. The recording took place between 2009 and 2010.

Researchers then graded each food diary according to healthy eating guidelines and found that only 0.3 per cent of region residents met those guidelines.  About 39.6 per cent of residents ate a 'poor' diet with lots of sugar, salt and fat, and 60 per cent of residents 'needed improvement.'

The report is part of a project commissioned by the Region of Waterloo called NEWPATH, and featured researchers from the University of Waterloo, the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia. 

The region's results are not caused by out of date, or unreasonable nutrition guidelines, Minaker said. 

"I don't think it's about the nutrition guidelines being out of whack. I think we all know them. It's eat more dark green leafy vegetables, eat more orange vegetables, make sure you're eating your fruit, lower fat, lower salt, lower sugar foods," she said. "What our research showed is that where we're living is actually associated, fairly strongly in some cases, with how we eat." 

Region residents live in 'food swamps'

Researchers looked at where study subjects lived, and what sort of food was available to them within a one-kilometre radius of their homes. In that radius, on average, there were at least five times as many fast food restaurants and convenience stores as there were grocery stores and specialty food stores. On top of that, in those stores at least three times as much shelf space was used for snack foods and junk foods compared to space for vegetables and fruits.

This phenomenon is called a 'food swamp,' where there is an excess of unhealthy food and beverages in an area. 

"I think it's shocking, again, because we think we eat healthier food than we do. I think what it tells us is that all of us are very influenced by our environments and by the advertising, by the price of foods and by other things that are outside of our control," said Minaker. 

"It's just those little extra things that we pick up at the convenience store or the grocery store that aren't the healthy items that actually has quite a significant impact on our diets," she said.

However, researchers did find that there were a reasonable amount of healthy food options for sale and that produce for sale in Waterloo Region was of reasonable quality.