Miscellany 01/17/2018

Our quarterly Research Round up features highlights from recent studies and reports in the realm of food, health, and community belonging.

High consumption of ultra-processed foods

A recent report by Jean-Claude Moubarac found that nearly half (48%) of all calories consumed by Canadians come from ultra-processed foods, indicating a significant climb in consumption since the 1980s and a slight increase since 2004. Higher levels of ultra-processed food intake are linked to chronic disease and obesity. Consumption rates are high across all socioeconomic groups, and highest among young people, with children and youth (from aged two to 18) getting more than half of their calories from ultra-processed foods.

Exploring community belonging in Canada

Community Foundations of Canada’s 2017 National Vital Signs Report looks at how factors such as housing, income, public space, and citizenship affect people’s sense of inclusion and belonging. The visually engaging report highlights national trends and research findings, including the following:

  • More and more people are living alone: 3.9 million people, or 28% of Canadians;
  • Wealth inequality is on the rise: the richest 10% of Canadians own close to half of all wealth, while the least wealthy 50% own less than 6% combined;
  • When people feel they belong to a community and trust one another, people are healthier, neighbourhoods are safer and more resilient, and social inclusion improves.

Food preference trends among people living on low incomes

study by Baumann, Szabo, and Johnston looks at food preferences of families living on low incomes and the factors that influence their food choices. Authors reported that low-income participants in the study commonly expressed a desire to eat more healthy foods, such as fresh produce and organic foods, but were limited by financial constraints.

Johnston reflected on the study findings in a recent article: “Low-income people have an extensive knowledge of health discourse and most know the basics of healthy eating,” Johnston says. “That’s significant because popular culture sometimes assumes that low-income people make poor food choices because they don’t know what’s healthy.”

Impact of food subsidies and taxes on health and longevity

A study by Peñalvo et al. estimates that a 10% food subsidy (on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and seeds) combined with a 10% food tax (on processed meats, meats and sugar-sweetened beverages) could prevent over 23,000 deaths per year, or 3% of all deaths caused by heart disease, stroke and diabetes in the U.S. Increasing subsidies and taxes to 30% could have an even bigger impact: preventing over 63,000 deaths per year, or 9% of cardiovascular disease and diabetes-related deaths. Researchers note that the higher 30% subsidy and tax combination would help to reduce socioeconomic health disparities by making healthy foods more affordable.