Fewer people have the skills for food preparation and making healthy food choices.

Article & image by Valerie Macdonald

“We are losing our ability as a population to be able to cook from scratch,” Halliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit nutritionist Azevedo Perry told health unit board members at their most recent meeting. “And more Canadians are eating in fast food restaurants.”

Overall, people in Ontario and elsewhere are not eating the recommended number of daily servings of fruits and vegetables, while the amount of fat, sugar and sodium consumed exceed the levels contained in the Canada Food Guide for Health, board members were also told.

To change eating habits, Azevedo Perry’s team decided, after evaluating available research, that there is a need to create a tool to track and measure the attributes of food literacy ranging from knowledge of food and food skills to external factors and actual food decisions.

Halliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit nutritionist Azevedo Perry

Food literacy is made up of a number of interconnected factors, says Perry which can help or hinder healthy eating, she says.

Because “dietary risk factors are the main contributors to mortality” which is associated with the increase in chronic diseases like cancer, a Healthy Eating Team co-lead by Azevedo Perry and Heather Thomas is looking at the complex issues surrounding “food literacy.”

It’s not just identifying foods that are good for a healthy lifestyle and preparing them in a healthy way, other factors enter into the equation from the money available to spend on food to the number of times people eat out.

The focus will be to create programs that reflect all of the inter-related aspects of food literacy that determine what a child, teen, pregnant woman, adult or senior puts in his or her mouth. The success of the programs will be evaluated, she explained.

The high-risk groups are those 16 to 19, young parents and pregnant woman aged 15 to 25. The inter-related food literacy tool will be developed is to target these age groups.

Several board members including Heather Staubel questioned not starting with younger children but Perry said the research shows that the most receptive groups are those being targeted.

These groups “get it,” she said.

Board member John Logel agreed with the target ages, saying this is when young people have disposable income and are making their own food choices.

When queried about the ongoing process of developing the “tool” and education about food literacy and improving the healthy eating habits of local people, Perry assured board members that the data that will be collected will be widely collected within the local health unit as well as from staff when they train members of the various groups in the use of the tool.

The local health unit will stay at the forefront of this important research and programming, she said.