Healthy food on the table at the FPT Health Ministers' meeting


By Sasha McNicoll - Coalition for Healthy School Food


A renewed sense of opportunity formed the undercurrent of last month’s health ministers’ meeting as provincial and territorial health ministers met with their federal counterpart for the first time in a decade. Such a long absence on behalf of the Government of Canada left federal Minister of Health Jane Philpott with a long list of issues to discuss, chief among them the negotiation of a new Health Accord (the last one expired in 2014 after the Harper government refused to renegotiate it).


Food Secure Canada was on the ground representing the Coalition for Healthy School Food in order to put food on the minds of ministers as they considered the future of our health care system. Much of the discussion at the meeting was around money, with provincial and territorial governments asking the federal government to increase its contribution to health care from 22 to 25 per cent.


Despite this, Minister Philpott maintained that the discussion should go beyond who pays how much and toward how we reimagine Medicare. And what could be more relevant to this theme than reimagining our food system? As demonstrated in a recent fact sheet jointly released by Food Secure Canada and Norm Campbell, the HSF/CIHR Chair in Hypertension Prevention and Control, diet-related diseases are the leading driver of health care costs, setting back the public purse tens of billions of dollars a year.

Recent research has revealed the inordinate cost of household food insecurity: people living in the most severe food insecurity have over double the health care costs of the food secure. And this is more pertinent than ever as the tanking loonie drives up the cost of healthy food.


Both Food Secure Canada and the Coalition for Healthy School Food offer a myriad of healthy food ideas on which the federal government can act. Food Secure Canada has called for Health Canada to be intimately involved in the creation of a national food policy, mandated to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. This policy ought to start with Canadian children by creating healthier school food environments through the development of a national school food program - indeed, Canada is one of the only industrialised countries without one. All children should have access to healthy food at school. We need to lay the foundation for healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime and ensure that learning is not hindered by a lack of access to good food.


As stated by Dr. Victoria Crosbie, a pediatrician and the Chair of the Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador, a member of the Coalition for Healthy School Food, “School food programs that provide children with healthy food and nutrition literacy have an incredible potential through improvements in population health to reduce long-term health care costs. Addressing the social determinants of health is vital to turning the tide of chronic disease.”


To this end, Food Secure Canada was pleased to see the inclusion of health promotion and school health in the final statement of the health ministers’ meeting:



"Ministers of Health agreed that the continued transformation of health-care systems is a critical element of improving health outcomes for Canadians, while recognizing that progress on the social determinants of health is equally important. In this context, ministers received an update on the important issue of antimicrobial resistance, a report on healthy weights, and the Pan-Canadian Joint Consortium for School Health Annual Report (2015)"


An increased focus on health promotion, especially through the lens of a healthier food system, has the potential not only to improve the health and wellbeing of Canadians but also to save our health care system billions of dollars.



Food Secure Canada and the Coalition for Healthy School Food will continue to follow up on the conversations we have had with health ministers, both at the meeting in Vancouver and preceding it. We look forward to working on health promotion through healthy food under the new culture of openness and transparency with the federal government squarely at the table.



A big THANK YOU for all your support!