Resources Backgrounder

The importance of healthy eating for children and youth

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About this resource

This backgrounder provides an overview of some of the current research on the connections between healthy eating habits in children and their development, success in school, and risk of chronic diseases later in life.
 

The issues: Current context

Having a poor diet is a key driver of childhood obesity and its associated health risks. Many surveys have found that Canadian children are not, on average, consuming the number of nutritious food recommended by Canada's Food Guide. Consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are linked to chronic disease and obesity, is on the rise; children  and youth aged two to 18 get more than half of their calories from ultra-processed foods.

One contributor to unhealthy eating habits is targeted food marketing. Evidence shows that food ads influence the kind of food kids prefer, what they ask their parents for, and what they eat. The average Canadian child sees eight to ten food and drink ads per day on TV and close to 90 per cent market unhealthy foods — processed foods hig in sugar, fat, and salt.

Why it matters

Unhealthy eating habits put children a greater risk for poor development, lower academic achievement, and physical and mental health issues in adolescence and later in life.

Several studies demonstrate the importance of addressing diet and obesity issues at an early age. The
development of healthy eating habits in the early stages of life has been shown to decrease the risk of
diet-­related diseases.


What we do about it

Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations offer hands-on cooking and gardening programs that help children and youth gain food skills and knowledge, and build healthy eating habits. These programs empower young people and their families to take as much control over their personal health and nutrition as possible within the context of their circumstances.

Research shows that community-based food programs that offer hands-on food education and skill building are effective interventions for children, youth, and their families. Such programs have been found to build food literacy, combat youth obesity, and improve eating habits, lowering the risk for health issues later in life.