Public Health Heroes

We don’t live in a particularly healthy society: despite a rising awareness of healthy eating,  the prevalence of diet-related chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and hypertension in Ontario is increasing, contributing to a direct burden of $1.6 billion in health care costs and $2.87 billion in indirect costs.[1]

While the solution commonly offered is to simply “eat healthier food,” it is much easier said than done. Fresh, nutritious food is often prohibitively expensive or even physically inaccessible within a community. More than one in ten Ontarian households experience some degree of food insecurity due to financial constraints, and it’s estimated that 375,000 Ontarians access food banks every month.[2] It’s clear that in order to start solving Ontario’s health problems, we have to first tackle food insecurity by increasing access to good food.

While the situation seems dismal, there are many people on the ground working hard to create change.  In particular, public health units are often leaders on food policy issues.

Rosie Kadwell, a public health dietician in Haliburton, chairs Harvest Haliburton and Haliburton County FoodNet.  Harvest Haliburton initiated a Community Food Assessment Steering Committee to conduct a food assessment to inform long-term planning and action for a sustainable food system, and they provide a great tool-kit for municipalities advising them on actions they can take to improve community food security.

communityfoodsecurity

A page from Harvest Haliburton’s Health Matters at the Council Table toolkit.

Rosie is also the lead contact for the Local Food Champion in Haliburton County, sending Vote ON Food & Farming surveys to all council candidates for the 2014 municipal elections. Read candidates responses on the Haliburton page.

Another great example of food policy leadership is the Ontario Society for Nutrition Professionals in Public Health, which has coordinated Hungry for Action, a project to build awareness and support among local decision makers in fifteen communities for healthy public policy to help reduce poverty and food insecurity across Ontario.  They’re currently working on a poverty simulation project for November and have collected survey responses from municipal candidates.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit is a participant in Hungry for Action, and has had a significant response to the municipal candidate survey. The survey asks candidates about their opinions on what they aim to do about poverty reduction on the municipal level, as well as questions about affordable transportation and housing.

With the municipal elections happening across the province on October 27, it’s a great time to celebrate people, policies and programs that are creating change in our communities and to push for even more measures, because every person deserves to be food secure.

Read more about the social case for strong municipal policy for local food and farming in our new Rationale and Best Practices resource featuring leading Ontario examples.

 

References

[1] Katzmarzyk PT, The Economic Costs Association with Physical Inactivity and Obesity in Ontario, The Health and Fitness Journal of Canada, 2011.

[2] Hunger Report 2013. Ontario Association of Food Banks.

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