There is a close association between education and health as the two are interdependent, but this fact is often ignored. A healthy student who is well fed can learn better than one who is starving or unhealthy. This is because a well fed student tends to perform better in their academics and other school related activities such as sports than an unfed one. When one is hungry, it becomes hard for such an individual to concentrate in class or even make it to school. Most students who lack adequate food may suffer nutrition related disorder and thus, they become too weak to attend school. The recent economic downturn experienced in Canada has caused most family to experience financial hardships (Backgrounder, 2009). This has occurred at a time when there is a global inflation on food prices, which makes it harder for families to access adequate food supplies. This has created an alarming concern since the health of children is being undermined by inflated food prices. Consequently, the British Columbian has developed a school food program that provides school going children with the appropriate nutrition, but in a comprehensive manner.
One of the leading factors that threaten to undermine the health of Canadian children in British Columbia is the ongoing inflation of food prices. The Canadian statistics estimates taken between 2007 and 2008 indicate that retail prices for several foodstuffs were on the rise. For example, the retail price for fresh fruits went up by 19% while that of fresh vegetables went up by 29%. Additionally, retail prices for cereal products and baked foods also went up by 13%. This significantly affected most households throughout Canada as these food groups are the most common among Canadian families (Backgrounder, 2009). The price inflation of the mentioned foods was more than the price hike for all other foods which was 7.4%. With such untenable food price inflations, most Canadians could not manage to boost their health using appropriate diet.
The increasing cases of lifestyle related disorders have generated concerns since it also challenges children’s health. There has been an alarming trend among Canadian children as childhood obesity, type2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases have been on the rise. This has placed Canada on the lead among the countries where such diet related illnesses are most prevalent. The main contributing factor to this trend is that very few Canadian children between the ages of 4 to 18 years consume nutritious meals (Columbia, A National Nutritious School Meal Program for Canadian Children). They mostly do not consume the World Health Organization’s recommended proportions of vegetables and fruits. Consequently, these children lack the protective barrier generated by vegetable and fruit intake and thus they are prone to diabetes, certain cancers and obesity.
The global economic crisis has also played a role in undermining the health of Canadian children in several ways. It is evident that this crisis, which was triggered by housing credit, had its impact trickle down from the corporate to the common Canadians. Not only did the food prices escalate, but also the entire cost of living shot up significantly as all other essential commodities also became unaffordable. This was mainly contributed by the massive unemployment that occurred during this period of economic recession (Backgrounder, 2009). Most firms were running out of business and thus they could not sustain as many employees as they previously had. This meant that a significant number of households had their income reduced. Consequently, they had to tighten their food consumption opting to eat only what they could afford even though it was innutritious and inadequate.
The British Columbia school food program, which runs in the entire province, was begun in 1992 (Hay, 2000). This was initiated after the realization that family poverty in the province was on the rise. Consequently, a number of school going children were faced with hunger as families could no longer afford adequate and nutritious foods. This triggered the British Columbia government’s concern as it had a significant impact on the performance of these children while in school. This is because the children’s concentration in class had declined while several of them could not make it to school as required. Therefore, appropriate programs and policies were developed which would reflect school health comprehensively so as to promote the physical emotional and social well being of students.
One of the programs developed from this is the British Columbia school meal program. This provides hot and nutritious meals to those students within schools registered under the program during lunch hours. The meals are usually a constitution of all the vital nutrients such as vitamins, starches and proteins. These lunches focus on including healthier foods such as vegetables, yoghurt, whole grains, 100% juices, baked snacks as opposed to deep fried ones, fruits and cheese (WOOLLEY, 2011). Additionally, the meals also pay attention to the portions since wrong portions of nutritious foods can have negative health consequences.
One of the key objectives of this program was to eliminate hunger among students within British Columbia schools (Columbia, Comprehensive School Health). Hunger occurs when an individual does not obtain adequate and nutritious food through appropriate food channels. Such a condition where there is limited access to nutritious and adequate foods then this leads to a case of food insecurity. In turn, this places children and their families at a risk of several negative outcomes. These include poor health that is brought about by malnutrition, illiteracy and family break ups.
The second objective was to promote a healthy educational surrounding and nutrition education. The latest health trends indicate an alarming nutrition crisis in Canada and the global society. This has been promoted by several factors such as food insecurity, poverty, low nutrition education, body image issues and inadequate food choices (Hay, 2000). Therefore, the school meals programs provide an appropriate avenue for solving these conditions. This is because it ensures that children are given nutritious foods on a regular basis while in school.
This way, it will not matter if their families are poverty stricken or their parents do not know the appropriate choice of foods. Consequently, families will be saved from having to rely on the easily available but unhealthy fast foods. The school also serves as an equalizing avenue for all students despite their backgrounds. Therefore, this serves as an appropriate platform for launching such as a program where food is availed to children regardless of their backgrounds. Here, children are provided with nutritious foods that they may not get in their homes (Columbia, A National Nutritious School Meal Program for Canadian Children). In turn, they can then transmit this knowledge to their homes, and thus extend the impact of the program to their homes.
The actual history of food programs in British Columbia can be dated back to 1973 when the Elementary Milk Program (ESMP) began (Turkington). This milk program was initiated due to the nutritional benefits associated with milk intake. Initially, the province was ranked lowest in the provision of milk in its schools. Today, this milk program provides white milk and chocolate milk to elementary students in any three days of the week. This program was not under the government’s funding, but instead it was entirely funded by BC’s dairy farmers. The milk is delivered to most of the schools that are under this program by the dairies. However, in rural areas, the milk is delivered to the local groceries from where milk coordinators pick it up.
This milk is provided to the children in three days within a week. This milk is often packaged in 125 ml, 250 ml or 355 ml plastic bottles. Since elementary schools within British Columbia lack cafeterias, the milk is stored within the staff room or a common area where large refrigerators are located. Other schools that were not under this milk program are allowed to seek registration for this school milk program (Turkington). This milk can then be sold to students through the vending machines placed within these schools. Consequently, about 35 elementary schools have registered themselves under this program and they offer milk through their vending machines.
Unlike the milk program, the BC food program is under the government’s funding. The Ministry of Children and Family development allocates $45.4 million to Community LINK for all community-based programs running in schools. In turn, this Community LINK spends about $14 million in funding these school-based meal programs (Backgrounder, 2009). The meals are provided free of charge to children whose families cannot afford the payments while those who can afford are made to pay for the entire cost of the meals. The BC’s food program intents at targeting areas which are seen as low-income areas.
The ministry decides on the schools eligible for this program based on the Social Services Index. This index provides a formula that identifies the total students identified as vulnerable by administrators. For example, in Vancouver, 27 out of the total 109 schools are under the provincially sponsored food programs. The review conducted by the Vancouver Board of Education Inner City Schools Project identified Strathcona as the most vulnerable within the district (Hay, 2000). However, this form of selection tends to be unreliable in some cases. For example, only a couple of schools in Westside Vancouver are qualified for this program when about 14% of families there are poor. Moreover, there are also a few poverty cases within the schools that are considered to be in posh areas.
The meal programs in British Columbia have been extended further to include breakfast programs. This was begun after the realization that most families intentionally or unintentionally sent children to school without breakfast. The families that were thought to be struggling financially would go without a proper breakfast due to financial constraints. Additionally, the meal program assured them that at least their children would get something to eat during the day through the school meal programs. It was also noted that some of the comfortable families tend to unintentionally neglect their families since parents tend to be too busy check what their children take for breakfast while others even leave before their children have had breakfast (Hay, 2000).
The most recent food program entry in schools within British Columbia is the Farm to School program. However, this is an independent entity from the government funded food program as the Farm to School program is under the Farm to Cafeteria association. This program seeks to create a direct link between schools and farms within the province. This way, the program will allow for children to access fresh, nutritious and safe foods from the local farms. Presently, it is estimated that over 20,000 schools within British Columbia have implemented the Farm to School program in their lunch programs. In addition to providing fresh foods, this program also provides valuable health information to teachers and parents (WOOLLEY, 2011).
However, the British Columbian school meal program was not flawless as critics pointed out several loopholes within it. Critics felt that the program failed to address the core issues which paved way to this crisis. Instead, the food program was only addressing a symptom, which is hunger, and failed to address the cause, economic hardships. The British Colombia leadership should have provided a way of improving the economic income of families (WOOLLEY, 2011). For example, if it could provide additional employment with better pay for families. Moreover, the authorities should also consider increasing income support to boost the families’ income. This way, they would not have a situation where children were attending school while hungry.
Some critics felt that the program would have been more effective if it improved capacity building among families. Other than job creation, this could also include other aspects such as childcare education, nutrition education, community service and accessibility to affordable nutritious food. To start with, nutrition education could empower parents and guardians on how to select nutritious foods as opposed to the more accessible unhealthy foods. This is because most individuals are often under the notion that for one to acquire healthy foods, it has to cost them more money than they would ordinarily spend. However, the program could have discredited such unfounded beliefs by educating people on affordable foods that are highly nutritious.
The program also failed from a health developmental perspective since it was only run within elementary schools. Health and nutrition experts require assert that children under five years, pre-scholars, are the most vulnerable to ailments brought about by undernourishment. This is because as this age, their immunity is not as developed as that of school going children over the ages of five years (WOOLLEY, 2011). Therefore, the food program should have directed more attention towards children who have not yet reached school going age instead of those already in school. While reaching out to these younger ones, the program should have provided home visits where early childhood education should have been provided to parents. Furthermore, the program also left out a significantly large number of youths who are beyond elementary school. Lastly, the nutritional value of the foods provided under this program was also questionable as health experts felt that it was inadequate.
In conclusion, the BC’s school meals program has catered for the nutritional needs of Canadian students comprehensively (Columbia, Comprehensive School Health). It has achieved this through the provision of nutritious meals to all students regardless of whether they can afford it or not. Additionally, the program also sensitizes the public on healthy living. This way, they have ensured that the student’s performance is not affected since the children remain well fed. In addition to the food program, a milk program that provides students with additional nutrients contained in milk has also been included. This program has provided the government with an avenue to act responsibly towards its citizens who are economically constrained. Additionally, the program also safeguards the country’s future since it lies in the hands of the Canadian children.
Backgrounder. (2009). A National Nutritious School Meal Program for Canadian Children. 1-8.
Columbia, B. (n.d.). A National Nutritious School Meal Program for Canadian Children. 5-30.
Columbia, B. (n.d.). Comprehensive School Health. Retrieved March 17, 2013, from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/health/
Hay, D. I. (2000). School Food Programs: A good choice for children? Retrieved March 17, 2013, from Canadian Counsil on Social Development: http://www.ccsd.ca/perception/234/sf.htm
Turkington, J. (n.d.). BC Dairy Foundation. Elementary School Milk Program .
WOOLLEY, P. (2011, January 18). Advocates push for school lunch program funding in B.C. Retrieved March 17, 2013, from Straight.com: http://www.straight.com/news/advocates-push-school-lunch-program-funding-bc