School Nutrition Programs in Canada Vital for At Risk, Hungry Children (footnote based on C.D Howe Commentary)

A Q&A on the “Health and Grades: Nutrition Programs for Kids in Canada” Report.

The Grocery Foundation is committed to fundraising for student nutrition programs (SNPs) and to elevating the public’s awareness around their importance. Our focus is on fundraising for Canadian children, living in food insecure households who stand to go to school hungry.

Recently, (February 2019) the C.D. Howe Institute released a Commentary entitled: Health and Grades: Nutrition Programs for Kids in Canada. Their independent analysis adds to the body of views and research on the impact of SNPs.

We’d like to take this opportunity to address questions you may have on this Commentary.

What is the Foundation’s view of the C.D. Howe Commentary?

The Grocery Foundation is committed to fundraising for student nutrition programs (SNPs) and to elevating the public’s awareness around their importance. We are pleased to see the references to positive impacts especially for at risk children.

We’re disappointed the Institute’s independent review did not lead them to more definitive conclusions around the long-term effects of student nutrition programs; notwithstanding the factors the author’s cited, including challenges due to a lack of comparable studies.

Did the Foundation Sponsor this Study?

Even though several generations of Canadians have benefited from SNPs and many short-term studies citing their benefits have been published, conclusions around their long-term impact in developed nations, Canada included, are not widely available. We support independent reviews and clinical research looking at the impact of student nutrition programs. Our support of research in this area does not indicate an endorsement of specific recommendations.

What is your view on the Commentary findings and recommendations?

We are pleased Canadians have an opportunity to learn more about SNPs impact. Below are some cited:

  1. "Providing a healthy breakfast is an effective measure to improve academic performance and cognitive functioning among undernourished children"
  2. "Eating breakfast provides a significant portion of the daily caloric and nutrient intake that is especially important for children"
  3. "Evidence suggests breakfast has benefits on children’s on-task behaviours in classrooms, and evidence that habitual breakfast consumption improves grades or test scores"
  4. "Food insecurity may be associated with higher adverse mental health outcomes ― both nutritional and psychological stress

It’s also important for us to note, that beyond the clinical research on impact, as a Foundation, through our many interactions with SNPs, we see and hear many firsthand experiences and accounts by educators and program administrators who speak to the community-building, nutrition education, attendance and classroom behaviour that they promote. We firmly believe these experiences are a vital part of the impact story, even if not part of a clinical research review.

This Commentary adds to the points of view on the impact of SNPs. Notwithstanding research, we firmly believe, hunger among children has no upsides. The stark reality is that an estimated one in five children in this country is living in poverty and are food insecure. We all stand to benefit by a Canada that is True, North Strong and Fed.

As a Foundation, does this Commentary change anything when it comes to funding SNPs in Canada?

The Foundation remains a strong supporter of SNPs. In fact, we plan to deepen our fundraising efforts centred on feeding hungry Canadian children. We’ve seen firsthand just how vital they are ― with one in five children going to school hungry in this country — and believe their importance will only grow in the foreseeable future.

We encourage all public and private funders to maintain, and where feasible, increase their support to help address the ongoing need and help alleviate funding shortfalls.

Offering nutritious food in a stigma-free environment that promotes health while also pointing to academic benefits are tremendous upsides we must continue to fund and rally behind. We support programs that get nutritious foods to hungry children, especially when they’re focused on at-risk students.

We are incredibly thankful to all our partners and the public who continue to support our fundraising efforts, including our most recent Toonies for Tummies campaign.

Read our press release