Good Food for Good Health

by Lynn Roblin, Chair, Ontario Collaborative Group on Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

The Ontario Collaborative Group on Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (OCGHEPA) is a provincial collaboration of not-for-profit, public health and academic organizations dedicated to addressing population-based issues relating to healthy eating, physical activity, healthy weights and the determinants of health, including food access, availability and adequacy.

Our mission is to improve the health of all Ontarians by advancing healthy eating and active living initiatives through strategic partnerships, knowledge exchange and collective action.  Our vision for 2015 is an Ontario that supports healthy eating and active living for all.

We work collaboratively on recommendations to government that address the growing rate of obesity and physical-inactivity in Ontario and the social determinants of health. We believe a strong coordinated inter-ministerial provincial approach for food and nutrition and physical activity is needed to promote a healthy province and health and wellness in Ontarians.

OCGHEPA is working on the following priority areas:

  • Making Ontario the healthiest province
  • Developing an Ontario food and nutrition strategy
  • Improving access for all Ontarians to healthy food and physical activity opportunities
  • Using the 2015 Pan Am games as an opportunity to promote healthy eating and active living
  • Childhood obesity
  • Food security
  • Healthy eating/physical activity in school
  • Built environment

On June 23, 2011 numerous partners and stakeholders were invited to participate in a working day devoted to strategic next steps in the creation of a comprehensive Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy.

The objectives of this discussion forum were:

  • To begin to activate momentum for the creation of an Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy that will align the common goals of government representatives and key stakeholders to stimulate significant positive change for healthy individuals and communities;
  • To initiate the discussion on working collaboratively to establish overall goals and actionable next steps in the development of a comprehensive Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy;
  • To start to engage participants in opportunities for further collaboration and identify potential leaders for Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy development.

Since then, various stakeholders have continued to work together to formulate the basic tenet of a food and nutrition strategy for Ontario. This work involves:

  • Identifying whose voice is missing in discussions surrounding the strategy, engaging them and building relationships;
  • Defining consensus on the issues at hand in order to help direct appropriate solutions;
  • Developing a set of concrete goals that the strategy might embody to serve as a starting point and stimulating discussion around the best approach to action in the initial stages of strategy development;
  • Determining smaller areas of focus within a broader, system-wide strategy for ease of management and stakeholder buy-in where their interests, expertise and priorities lie;
  • Leveraging the strategy on current similar efforts within and across sectors;
  • Learning from other successful initiatives of this scale, both nationally and internationally (e.g. Japan, Australia);
  • Identifying who can provide needed human and financial resources;
  • Engaging academia for research support and funding opportunities.

We look forward to working collaboratively with our partners and across governments to have an impact on improving the health and well-being of Ontarians.

Ontario Collaborative Group on Healthy Eating and Physical Activity partners include the Canadian Cancer Society-Ontario Division, Canadian Diabetes Association, Cancer Care Ontario, Dietitians of Canada, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health, Ontario Society of Physical Activity Promoters in Public Health, Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Management in Public Health, Ophea, Parks and Recreation Ontario, and academics from the universities of Guelph and Waterloo. The Canadian Cancer Society acts as a secretariat for the group.

2 thoughts on “Good Food for Good Health

  1. I am an active supporter of local food – I purchase the bulk of my foods each week directly from farmers or from retailers who stock locally sourced foods. I’m thrilled to see initiatives to further support this sort of thing, but here’s where I get concerned, especially when dealing with issues such as obesity and health:

    Many of the partners listed above still promote a diet based on lowering saturated fat, eating lots of whole grains, etc. Unfortunately, these recommendations and others like them, ones which we have come to accept, are not based in demonstrable, repeatable science. Obviously, I don’t have the time or space here to delve too deeply into the history of nutrition science in the Western world (see Gary Taubes’ writing for that), but suffice to say that any nutrition strategies/policies that are to be implemented need to be based in solid science.

    In some U.S. States, school healthy eating policies have resulted in parents unable to pack lunches for their children; children being told they cannot eat the lunch they have brought in because it does not meet the set nutrition guidelines; children being served low-fat products (milk, puddings, etc) and so on. As someone who lived for a long time following government/association guidelines for healthy eating (low saturated fat, low sodium, smaller and leaner meat portions, lots of grains/legumes etc) and found herself both overweight and ill – and then slimmed down and regained health by eating food as it naturally comes (ie: meat with its fat, full fat dairy) and cutting down on grains/legumes (which caused both digestive and mental health issues – yes, grains can cause psychological issues in people sensitive to them) – it concerns me that government policy, if not backed by complete and comprehensive science, could hinder rather than help in this area.

    As far as schools, hospitals and other institutions go, I’d love to see as much of their food locally sourced and unprocessed as possible… I just fear that the nutrition policies which go in to establishing nutrition guidelines will result in kids, patients etc having to eat according to the very guidelines that made me (and others) ill and fat. Just as an n=1 example, my father-in-law, a T2 diabetic, ate according to the Canadian Diabetes Association guidelines (which are in accord with the Canada Food Guide), struggled to control his blood glucose levels and blood pressure and used medication to assist him in doing so. When he drastically lowered the amount of whole grains, legumes and certain vegetables, however, his blood glucose control was much better, as was his blood pressure, and he was able to lower his medication (and lose weight) – his doctor, though surprised, was and is very supportive of this.

    Nutrition is not one-size-fits-all… official guidelines tend to be just that. Science is ever-changing, and nutrition science is far from settled. I hesitate to lend my support to initiatives that don’t take this in to account.

  2. You make some very interesting points, Tracy. As a person who isn’t deeply familiar with the nutrition side of things, I don’t feel like I can comment on those points. I think, however, that you will be pleased to learn that the Food and Nutrition strategy (which is in its very early days) is not focusing on nutrition guidelines as much as it is focusing on making sure that people are engaged in decision making about food and food systems, that we have an economically sustainable local food system, that people are healthier, and that there is cross sectoral collaboration to better plan our food system.

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