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The dark side of Canada’s new food guide — many Canadians can’t follow it

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With headlines this week about changes coming soon to the Canada Food Guide one haunting fact remains —  many Canadians don’t have the time or the money to follow the national nutrition recommendations.

One possible strategy as old as the food guide itself — providing healthy meals in every Canadian school — was abandoned by the federal government more than half a century ago.

Today, Canada is the only G7 country that doesn’t have a national school food program.

Meanwhile Canada’s food statistics are grim.

Nearly one in every six children is affected by household food insecurity according to research by Prof. Valerie Tarasuk at the University of Toronto’s department of nutritional sciences.

“Food insecurity” is defined as a lack of access to food because families can’t afford to buy it. 

The population needs to be outraged that six other G7 countries do better.— Prof. Sara Kirk, Dalhousie University 

“We’ve got an accumulation of evidence that we’ve got a very significant problem on our hands,” said Tarasuk.

And it’s not because people don’t have jobs. In the majority of households facing food insecurity, someone is earning a wage or a salary. They just don’t make enough money to buy food.

Even when families can afford food, they’re still not able to follow the aspirational goals of the food guide because of time constraints or other pressures.

A modest target — getting kids to eat enough daily fruits and vegetables — isn’t happening most of the time.

One Canadian study showed that 90 per cent of students in Grades 6 to 12 are not eating the recommended daily servings.

It’s an enormous missed opportunity with research suggesting that simply chomping on a few apples and carrots every day could prevent thousands of cases of heart disease and cancer later in life.

‘No single step could be more valuable’

In 1942 when the Canada Food Guide was first introduced, a national school food program was also being planned. 

“No single step could be more valuable for the health of Canadians of the future,” deputy minister of pensions and national health, L.B. Pett, said at the time, according to food historian Ian Mosby, in his book Food Will Win the War, The Politics, Culture and Science of Food on Canada’s Home Front.

Why in a wealthy country like Canada are so many children hungry and malnourished?— Sen. Art Eggleton

But while Canada’s Food Guide has been updated seven times since the 1940s, the national school food program never happened. The idea was rejected by Mackenzie King’s Liberal government. 

In 2017 a UNICEF report ranked Canada near the bottom — 37th out of 41 high-income countries on children’s access to nutritious food.

“The population needs to be outraged that six other G7 countries do better than we do on school food. I’m embarrassed by that,” said Dalhousie University Prof. Sara Kirk who described how a national school food program could be implemented.

Her research has revealed psychosocial and mood problems associated with poor childhood nutrition. Other studies have linked poor teenage diets to depression and suicidal thoughts and other chronic health problems.

Sara Kirk is a professor of health promotion at Dalhousie University. Her research found an association between poor childhood nutrition and various psychosocial problems. (Pierre Fournier/CBC News)

“So why in a wealthy country like Canada are so many children hungry and malnourished?” Sen. Art Eggleton asked last June, as he introduced a Senate motion calling for a “national cost-shared universal nutrition program.”

It’s a recurring theme. In 1997 the parliamentary finance committee recommended a school food program. In 2013 the Conference Board of Canada repeated the call.

Right now there’s a national petition currently gathering names demanding that the minister of health establish an “adequately funded national cost-shared universal healthy school food program.”

‘No plans’ for national school meal program 

But it’s not happening.

“There are currently no plans to implement a national school meal program in Canada,” said Health Canada spokesperson Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge in an email to CBC News.

“The Healthy Eating Strategy focuses on regulatory and policy initiatives that aim to improve the food environment. Improving the food environment will ultimately improve access to nutritious foods for all Canadians including children and youth.”

The federal poverty reduction strategy is probably to the most radical thing the Trudeau government has done.— Prof. Valerie Tarasuk , University of Toronto

Many Canadian students do get some food at school through a patchwork of programs run by some provinces, municipalities and non-profit organizations.

“But there’s huge pockets of this country where none of that exists,” said Diana Bronson, executive director of Food Secure Canada, a pan-Canadian alliance of food activist organizations.

“Seventy per cent of children in Nunavut go to bed hungry. I don’t think we can say that statistic often enough.”

“If you’d asked me what the political priorities would be, it wouldn’t have been legalizing cannabis,” said Kirk. “It would have been investing in school food.”

Valerie Tarasuk is a professor in nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. Her research revealed Canada’s vast problem of food insecurity. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Tarasuk said there’s another way to solve the problem — increase people’s income. 

“People who are struggling to put food on the table because of a lack of finances, what they need is money.”

 She notes the lack of buzz about Ottawa’s poverty reduction strategy announced last August, which set a target of cutting Canada’s poverty rate in half over the next 12 years.

“It’s quite interesting how everybody is all over the food guide. You can’t say enough about it,” said Tarasuk. “And yet the federal poverty reduction strategy is probably the most radical thing the Trudeau government has done.”

The bill tabled two months ago would establish Canada’s first official poverty line — a poverty threshold that would be measured, in part, by access to food.

“One of the things that I think going forward that will be very important to do is to reconcile that poverty line with the new ideas about healthy eating that are going to be articulated in the new food guide.”

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Group challenges ruling requiring doctors to give referrals for services that clash with beliefs

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Ontario doctors challenging a court ruling that found physicians must give referrals for medical services that clash with their moral or religious beliefs say there is no proof that removing that requirement would hamper patients seeking treatment.

A group of five doctors and three professional organizations is appealing a divisional court decision that upheld a policy issued by the province’s medical regulator, arguing the lower court made several errors.

The group, which includes the Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies and Canadian Physicians for Life, is asking Ontario’s highest court to strike down the policy. The case is set to be heard in Toronto on Monday and Tuesday.

Last year, the divisional court found that while the policy — which requires doctors who have a moral or religious objection to treatments such as assisted dying, contraception or abortions to refer patients to another doctor who can provide the service — does limit doctors’ religious freedom, the breach is justified.

The court said the benefits to the public outweigh the cost to doctors, who could delegate the referral to staff or choose to practise a specialty where such issues are less likely to arise.

In court documents filed ahead of Monday’s hearing, the group said the ruling was unreasonable because it gave more weight to an assumed problem with access to health care than to a real infringement of doctors’ rights.

“The (College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario) elected to provide no objective, quantifiable evidence that mandatory referrals actually result in enhanced access to care,” it said.

There was also “no objective evidence of actual harm either before the policies or in any other jurisdiction in Canada,” it said.

Some doctors will leave Ontario, group says

It further argued the court erred in finding that any violation of doctors’ rights stemmed from their decision to practise in an area where moral conflicts could emerge, saying that presumed physicians could easily switch jobs.

“A consequence of these policies is that a number of physicians will be required to either retrain (notwithstanding severe personal consequences and no guarantee of finding work) or else leave Ontario altogether,” the group said.

“Can a policy which takes physicians out of Ontario rationally relate to the promotion of equitable access to health care?”

The college, meanwhile, said in court documents that practising medicine is a privilege, not a right, and argued the policy aims to balance the moral beliefs of individual physicians while ensuring access to care, particularly for vulnerable patients.

“The appellants’ claim that any patient capable of contacting their physician is capable of finding a second treating physician is directly contrary to the evidence,” the regulator said.

“It ignores that vulnerable or frail patients may still be living at home, relying on family members for assistance…who may not support the patient’s choice. It ignores that care options may be more limited in remote or rural areas. It ignores that some patients with mental, emotional or linguistic challenges may be unable to advocate for themselves,” it said.

“And it ignores the very real feelings of judgment, shame and stigma that patients experience when their physicians fail to provide the individualized care a patient seeks.”

By comparison, it argued, the burden imposed on doctors through the policy is an administrative one, since the referral can be handled by other staff members.

“The appellants put forward no evidence of a sincere religious objection to working with administrative staff who might connect patients with non-objecting providers, or to working in a practice group which can triage patients,” the college said.

“More importantly, they put forward no evidence of the actual burden — financial, logistical or otherwise — of making such administrative changes.”

What’s more, it said, “the relative power and privilege of physicians as compared to the vulnerable patients they refuse to assist” should be considered.

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5 ways to read more books this year

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How much time a day do you spend reading texts and alerts and notifications and emails and headline skims and flyby tickers and blog feeds and Twitter spews and Instagram comments? A lot? Me too. And that is truly garbage reading. Because what do you remember from it the next month or next year of your life?

We have to read more books. After all, books are still the greatest form of deep compressed knowledge on the planet.

Reading not only allows you to escape into an other world, studies show reading fiction can improve ones ability to empathize with others.
Reading not only allows you to escape into an other world, studies show reading fiction can improve ones ability to empathize with others.  (Dreamstime)

So how do you get more into your life?

Well, for the past two years I have shared three ways to read more books: centralize your books in your home, make a public commitment to read more and reapply the 10,000 steps rule. So, today I come back to you with five more! Because we all should read a little bit more. Let’s break it down:

5. Live inside a world of books. This involves a mindset change. Like most people, I have a bookshelf “over there.” That’s where the books live. Then, one day last year, my wife dumped a pile of about 10 picture books in the middle of our coffee table. What happened? Our kids started flipping through them all the time. So now we leave them there and just rotate the books. Path-of-least-resistance principle! Just like how Google leaves kale chips on the counter for employees while hiding the cookies in the cookie jars. We’ve put the TV in the basement, installed a bookshelf near our front door, slipped books into car seat pouches and, of course, placed one within reach of every toilet. (Want an epic toilet book? Try this.) Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges says: “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.”

4. Find a few trusted, curated lists. The publishing industry puts out around 1,000 new books a day. Do you have time to sift through all those? No, nobody does, so we use proxies like Amazon reviews. But should we get our reading lists from retailers? If you’re like me, and you love the “staff picks” wall in independent bookstores, there’s nothing as nice as getting one person’s favourite books. Finding a few trusted, curated lists can be as simple as opening an account at Goodreads or Reco or subscribing to Ryan Holiday’s email list, but with a bit of digging you can likely find the one that totally aligns with your tastes. Maybe you’ll like Bill Gates’s reading list or Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club or Ariel Bissett’s YouTube channel. I also run an online book club where I send out my recommendations once a month (sign up here), and host a podcast called 3 Books where I interview inspiring individuals and uncover their three most formative books in order to find the 1,000 most formative books in the world.

Read more:

Spring Preview: 20 books I can’t wait to read in 2019

Worried about that big to-read pile? Don’t! Matt Haig tells us why

Konmari or tsundoku? The unbearable lightness of getting rid of books

3. Change your mindset about quitting. It’s one thing to quit reading a book and feel bad about it. It’s another to quit a book and feel proud of it. All you have to do is change your mindset. Just say, “Phew! Now I’ve finally ditched this brick to make room for that gem I’m about to read next.” An article that can help enable this mindset is “The Tail End,” by Tim Urban, which paints a striking picture of how many books you have left to read in your lifetime. Once you fully digest that number, you’ll want to hack the vines away to reveal the oases ahead. I quit three or four books for every book I read to the end because I don’t see the point in reading a book you dislike. I do the “first five pages test” before I buy any book (checking for tone, pace and language) and then let myself off the hook if I need to stop halfway through.

2. Go red in bed. Yes, I’m talking about lighting up your bedroom like a bordello. Just go to MEC for a red-light camping headlight and strap it to your forehead like you’re in the jungles looking for the Predator. My wife, Leslie, generally falls asleep before I do and that’s when I strap my red reading light on my forehead and get my reading on. Why red? Michael Breus, PhD and author of The Power of When says “the theory is that red light aids melatonin production.” Melatonin is the hormone that regulates wakefulness. And bright lights have the opposite effect by decreasing our quality of sleep according to the Sleep Health Foundation of Australia.

1. Make your phone disgusting. The most popular articles I wrote for the Star last year were about cellphone addiction. It’s hurting us all. So what’s the solution? Make it disgusting. Put your phone in black and white. Move all the apps off the main screen so it’s blank when you open it. Leave your cracked screen cracked. Move your charger to the basement so it’s an extra step in your low resilience nighttime and morning moments. Enable Night Mode to automatically block calls and texts after 7 p.m. Slowly, slowly, slowly pry that cellphone out of your fingers.

So are you raring to go?

Or do you need some rock-solid science to give you a final push? Well, how about a 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology that shows reading triggers our mirror neurons and opens up the parts of our brain responsible for developing empathy, compassion and understanding. This will make you a better leader, teacher, parent and sibling. Or another study from Science Magazine in 2013 that shows reading literary fiction helps improve empathy and social functioning. And, finally, a 2013 study at Emory University which shows MRIs taken the morning after test subjects were asked to read sections of a novel showed an increase in connectivity in the left temporal cortex. What’s that? The area of the brain associated with receptivity for language. The MRIs were done the next day. Just imagine the long-term benefits of cracking open a book every day.

Most of us want to read more books. And we can. Use these five ways to get started down the path. Let’s have a happy reading year together.

Neil Pasricha is the #1 bestselling author of six books including The Book of Awesome and The Happiness Equation. His research and writing focus on living intentionally. Join 35,000 other people to get his bi-weekly articles at www.neil.blog/newsletter

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Mother of 3-year-old killed by flu shares story, advocates for vaccine

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When Caylee Donovan took her three-year-old daughter Gracie to the hospital, worried her fever had lasted for five days, she was sent home.

“They just said keep her hydrated, keep trying to feed her and wait for the fever to break,” she said. “Basically they just ignored us.”

Weeks later, Gracie died.

It’s been 10 years since Donovan lost her daughter, but she wants to make her family’s story public so she can advocate for flu vaccines.

Gracie Donovan was just three years old when she died as a result of the flu virus. (Caylee Donovan)

Gracie was diagnosed with influenza after her mother took her back to the doctor repeatedly trying to get help. She was sent to the hospital in Nanaimo, where her family was living at the time, so she could be assessed by pediatricians.

One doctor told Donovan her child didn’t have the flu. She was just an angry child. But Donovan said it was because of the fever that she was acting unusually.

When another doctor decided to treat Gracie for the flu, she was relieved. But a couple of days later, Gracie’s condition worsened, and she was taken to a hospital in Victoria. It’s there that Donovan first learned her daughter might not make it.

“She was put on a ventilator that night and remained on it for 18 days,” Donovan said. “She fought it. They had 14 different medications in her little body.”

An abscess formed on Gracie’s lung, and between that and the other symptoms she was suffering from, she succumbed to the virus.

“It was hard on us, the family,” Donovan said.

“But she’s no longer suffering, and, now, I use her story and our family’s experience to advocate for having the flu vaccination.”

‘Things get misconstrued on the Internet’

Donovan wants other parents and people to understand the impact not vaccinating themselves or their children can have. Though her family had been vaccinated for influenza in years prior, they had not yet had the flu shot in 2009 when Gracie fell ill.

“Our family never really got sick. We were kind of that family that said this will never happen to us.”

She notices people asking for advice on Facebook and other social media forums and said her biggest piece of advice for others is to get their information about influenza and the flu shot from medical professionals, as opposed to the Internet.

“A lot of things get misconstrued on the Internet,” she said.

“It takes one person to say ‘there’s mercury in a vaccination.’ Society, these days, believes those stories and they take it to heart, and, then, they make decisions for their family that might not be in the best interests of their family.”

She hopes that by sharing her daughter’s story, people will take the virus more seriously.

“I would just like to see people educate themselves legitimately going to their health professionals, going to people who know the truth and can help you make the right decision for you. It may be to get a vaccine and it may be to not get the vaccine.”

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