Nova Scotia's School Food and Nutrition Policy - An update
Provided by Diana Dibblee, RD
Having worked in many different schools as a dietitian, as well as a teacher and administrator, I follow closely the research into school food and nutrition. Here in Nova Scotia, we have a healthy School Food and Nutrition Policy that was released in 2006. The Policy includes foods and beverages classed into 3 categories: Minimal, Moderate and Maximum nutritional value. The Policy is comprehensive but also perhaps complex to someone who does not have the time to invest to study and learn the Policy and it's directives and guidelines (this includes most busy school administrators who are directly responsible for the implementation).
Therefore, one of the greatest challenges lies in schools' adherence to the Policy, and how we can make healthy foods and beverages the easy choice! However this can be done. There are many successful stories out there, check out Nourish Nova Scotia for some of the latest ways that schools are adopting healthy food practices in our province. Many schools have daily breakfast programs, use school gardens, parent volunteers who facilitate veggie and fruit tastings, etc. Many fantastic things are happening, the list of school foods and beverages no longer includes pop, candy or fried food. This is a work in progress. As a recent CBC article notes, ”Nova Scotia school lunches get failing mark in some areas" (CBC, Sept 1, 2015).
A recent study evaluated adherence by schools to the Nova Scotia's Food and Nutrition Policy current guidelines and directives. This study was conducted by Sara Kirk and her colleagues at Dalhousie University. From 2012-2013, a dietitian studied the nutritional value of the foods and beverages offered by 110 elementary school cafeterias in NS. Sadly, some of the foods offered included a selection of nachos, chicken fingers, hot dogs, cookies and other foods categorized in the Minimal value category. These foods made up approximately 20% of the foods sold (see Moving Forward with School Nutrition Policies: A Case Study of Policy Adherence in Nova Scotia, 2014). According to the directives of the Policy, these foods should be pretty much banned in schools or only served at rare and special school functions. The Policy's focus is to support foods that contain healthy nutrients and are of mostly Maximum nutritional value with leeway for foods in the Moderate category. In many of the cafeterias studied it was noted that they are not following the full Policy, nine years after it was released.
Clearly there is still much work to be done to support schools in their efforts surrounding the Policy. Principals used to call me on a regular basis, as they tried to understand what foods and beverages are allowed and not allowed to be sold and served. With so many new administrators every year, we as a Province need more supports on how to effectively implement and adhere to the current Policy. It is evident that we need to identify clear and consistent best practices around healthy foods. Schools that are creative need to share their success stories. Cafeterias may need more resources, funding, volunteers, along with some creative ideas and ingenuity to make this happen.
Sara Kirk and her colleagues plan to undertake another study to identify further the current barriers surrounding the implementation and to examine in detail the ingredients (nutrients) found in school foods and beverages. There is no easy fix but I am hopeful that in the not so distant future, with the necessary financial and human resources, schools here in NS may very well be the healthiest in the country, if not the world! Time will tell.
See the article Culture matters: a case of school health promotion in Canada for more information
The CBC article can be found here.