Why to keep an eye on the school nutrition policy in an election

Health experts are concerned of possible changes coming to a new school policy that was recently implemented in New Brunswick schools.

What food and drinks are allowed to be sold and provided in schools, fundraisers has become an election issue

Policy 711, specifically prohibits food and beverages with "lower nutritional value that contain few nutrients and are higher in saturated fats, sugar or salt." (Tim Wimborne/Reuters)

Health experts are concerned of possible changes coming to a new school policy that has recently been revamped in New Brunswick schools.

Policy 711, specifically prohibits food and beverages with "lower nutritional value that contain few nutrients and are higher in saturated fats, sugar or salt."

Back in June, the province unveiled reforms to Policy 711, also known as the "healthier school food environment" policy.

"Our province here in New Brunswick, unfortunately is struggling with an unhealthy food culture," said Christine Roherty, vice-president of health promotion at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of New Brunswick.

"What we see are the symptoms of that unhealthy food culture."

In late August, Education Minister Brian Kenny said the policy should be applied with "common-sense" and shouldn't affect fundraisers that have already been planned. He said if the Liberals were re-elected, he may amend his own department's policy.

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs said if elected he would scrap Policy 711, also known as the "healthier school food environment" policy. (Jon Collicot/CBC)
Over the weekend, PC Leader Blaine Higgs said he would scrap the policy, which also limits what school cafeterias, after-school fundraisers and extracurricular activities can sell when it comes to low-nutrition foods. It includes a ban on chocolate milk, coated granola bars and sports drinks.

"Brian Gallant is focused on taking chocolate milk away from our kids," Higgs said in a press release. "I'd rather accomplish the same thing by giving our kids better access to organized sports activities and the character-building experience that come from participating in activities with peers."

Children and chronic disease

Roherty said the Heart and Stroke Foundation has been a stakeholder for changes to the policy over the last few years and added Policy 711 is the most comprehensive policy across the country.

"What you see in the new policy is really a lot of the consultation that we provided, which really represents the best practices and population health promotion across the country," she said in an interview on Information Morning Moncton.

"This is what the experts internationally, are saying is the best thing to do for our children."

Earlier this year, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of New Brunswick said 36 per cent of children in the province are either overweight or obese.

Roherty said New Brunswick children also have chronic diseases that previously were only seen in adulthood, like Type 2 Diabetes and hypertension.  

"We're not really setting children up for a lifetime of health and wellness," Roherty said. "We really need to look at what kind of environment we're placing our children in and what kind of choices we're providing them."

Education Minister Brian Kenny says changes will teach students 'what a proper meal looks like' 0:44

A healthy choice

Although they don't want to stigmatize children, Roherty said it's also important both children and parents are educated when it comes to healthy eating and schools are providing the right kinds of food for children.

"By changing the environment and what's offered within the environment, I think it does help reset the expectations that our children have in terms of normalizing food," she said. 

"When we talk about children that are coming from homes where there may not be a lot of healthy foods available ... at least it will be offered in the school setting." 

Although changes to the policy can be difficult, Jill Van Horne, Network Development Coordinator with Our Food Southeast New Brunswick, expects the policy to have positive impacts in school and students' learning.

And if schools are struggling, health experts encourage schools to seek their advice. 

Christine Roherty of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of New Brunswick and Jill Van Horne with Our Food Southeast New Brunswick say the "healthy food in schools" policy must not only be kept, but reinforced. 12:45

"If we could see some support rather than stepping back the policy completely, maybe there's a different way to implement it," she said. "But I do feel that what's within it is in the right direction." 

This week, Green Party Leader David Coon also promising a new tax on sugar-sweetened drinks.

New Brunswick Green Party leader David Coon said he he would impose a 20-cents-per-litre tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. (Sarah Morin/CBC)
Coon said he would impose a 20-cents-per-litre tax and the revenue would go toward foods that are healthier for kids at school and wellness programs.

The average New Brunswicker consumes 110 litres of sugar-sweetened beverages per year, according to documents the Green Party submitted to Elections NB. The estimated revenue per year would be around $16 million, the document said.


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With files from Shane Magee, Nathalie Sturgeon