Resources Backgrounder

The importance of healthy eating for Canadian children and teens


About this resource

This backgrounder provides an overview of the latest research on the health challenges facing children and youth who are food insecure, and best practices in food programming for this age group.

The issues: Current context

Children and youth in Canada are increasingly at risk for food-related problems. Across age groups, Canadian children are not getting enough nutritious foods in their diets, and more than half of their daily calories come from ultra-processed foods, typically high in sugar, fat, and salt.

A number of factors contribute to unhealthy eating habits in children and youth, such as low food literacy and food marketing of kids. The average Canadian child is bombarded with eight to ten food and drink ads on television per day and over 25 million online per year, 90% of which are pushing unhealthy items. Food insecurity also negatively impacts eating habits among children. Over one million children in Canada — nearly one in six — live in food insecure households. 

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. Having a poor diet is a key driver of childhood obesity and its associated health risks, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and disability. Childhood obesity rates have increased tenfold in the past 40 years worldwide, and affects 13% of children in Canada.

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.