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Release: New Canada's Food Guide offers a more affordable plate, and greater food security‑‑but that may not last
Halifax — Few public documents are as universally recognized as Canada’s Food Guide. In fact, preliminary findings of a study conducted by Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Senior Director at the Dalhousie University Agrifood Analytics Lab, show that 91% of Canadians are aware of the Food Guide and 74% know that the Government of Canada recently published a new version.
Canada’s Food Guide: Awareness, Understanding, Affordability, and Barriers to Adoption is a study released jointly by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph. The new Food Guide is a substantial departure from the previous version, focusing on plant-based eating and doing away with the four food groups known to most Canadians.
Are the new Food Guide recommendations affordable?
Although more than 25% of those surveyed say the new Food Guide recommendations are not affordable, the second part of this study showed that a family of four will save, on average, 6.8% on their annual grocery bill if they prepare food at home using the new guidelines. This is based on a cost comparison of foods and proportions recommended by the 2007 and 2019 versions of the Guide.
Student Brenda Nyambura Wambui, a research assistant and team member, played an integral role in conducting this important research. “What surprised me most was that the increase in portion sizes of fruits and vegetables in the new Guide did not make the average plate more expensive,” she says. “Because the current prices of meats and alternatives are higher than fruits and veggies, the new food guide actually recommends a cheaper Canadian diet.”
What about the food security of Canadians?
In the short term, following the new Food Guide could make Canadians more food secure due to the 6.8% average savings. However, as more and more of us adopt an increasingly plant-based diet, the demand for fruits and vegetables may go up. This could lead to price increases or price volatility, causing that savings margin to narrow or even disappear.
“The new Food Guide points to the issue of productivity in Canada,” says lead author Dr. Sylvain Charlebois. “If we don’t increase our production capacity for fruits and vegetables, more Canadian families will likely become food insecure over time.”
Where are Canadians getting their nutrition information?
While 30% of Canadians have viewed or referenced Canada’s Food Guide in the last 12 months, survey participants put the Food Guide in sixth place for sources of healthy eating advice, after family and friends, general research, social media, cookbooks and magazines, and TV programs.
“We found that almost two-thirds of participants have not used the Food Guide in the last 12 months and that it has a minor impact on Canadian food choices. This point is troubling,” says Dr. Simon Somogyi, Arrell Chair in the Business of Food at the University of Guelph. “We also see that Gen Z and Millennial consumers get much of their food information from food bloggers and celebrities. Perhaps Health Canada needs to engage with social media influencers and celebrities to get the message of the new Food Guide out to a younger demographic.”
What stands in the way of Canadians adopting the new Food Guide?
The majority of Canadians (52.4%) say they face barriers to adopting the new Food Guide. Besides the perception that the new Guide means a more expensive plate, about 20% of respondents say the recommendations don’t fit their taste preferences, and almost 20% say the Guide either doesn’t reflect their dietary needs or that preparing the recommended foods would be too time-consuming.
Co-authors on this study: From Dalhousie University: Meghan Smook, School of Public Administration; Brenda Nyambura Wambui, Faculty of Science; Don Fiander, DalAnalytics; Janet Music, Faculty of Management. From the University of Guelph: Dr. Simon Somogyi, Chair of the Arrell Food Institute, School of Hospitality, Food & Tourism Management, and College of Business and Economics; and Dr. Megan Racey, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Studies.
The study was conducted over two days in February 2019. It surveyed 1,071 people across the country, including Québec, in both English and French.
Download the preliminary results:
Sylvain Charlebois, Senior Director, Agrifood Analytics Lab
Faculty of Management, Dalhousie University
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