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New study examines eating habits of Canadians

Nestlé Canada hosts The Evolution of Eating in Canada Symposium: A revolutionary look at what, how and when Canadians are eating
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At the Evolution of Eating in Canada Symposium today, the University of Toronto presented, for the first time, an in-depth look at a study designed to understand the nutrition and dietary patterns of Canadians. Based on the latest Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) consumption data, the study found that the diet quality of Canadians is ‘poor’, thus the Symposium set out to address Canada’s nutritional landscape and provide stakeholders with knowledge to improve the eating habits of Canadians. Hosted by Nestlé Canada, the Symposium brought leading nutrition experts and academics together to discuss how, what and when Canadians are eating and to examine trends that may be impacting their eating habits in the future.

The comprehensive analysis of the CCHS data examined food choices and nutrient intakes to determine the nutrition quality of Canadians’ food choices according to meal, occasion and time. Understanding these consumption patterns and how they influence the nutritional quality of food choices made by Canadians is integral for decision makers to create a plan of action to positively impact consumption behaviour.

“In our study, we saw a U-shaped curve that reflects the quality of eating habits among the Canadian population,” said Mary R. L’Abeé, PhD, Earle W. McHenry Professor and Chair, Department of Nutritional Sciences Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto and Lead Research on the study. “In early life, when parents have the most influence, the nutritional quality of foods that young children eat is generally quite good. Choices start to deteriorate in late childhood and are at their worst in adolescence, then start to improve as Canadians enter their late twenties and early thirties.”

Some key findings of the research include:

  • Thirty per cent of total calories are consumed from food and beverages not recommended in the Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide (EWCFG)
  • Snacking makes up to 25 per cent of the daily energy intake for children and 23 per cent for adolescents. For these two groups, snacking contributed more calories than breakfast 
  • Most calories were consumed at home (88 per cent, 81 per cent and 83 per cent for children, adolescents and adults respectively), however, for individuals who ate at locations other than home, on average 40 per cent of daily calories (about 1000 Kcal/day) were consumed at these locations 

“The structure of eating today has drastically evolved,” said Kathy Perrotta, Vice-President, IPSOS Reid, author of The Evolution of Snacking report and leader of the IPSOS FIVE study. “Eating no longer centres around three daily meals. Instead, Canadians are grazing consistently throughout the day and we are seeing a greater deal of snacking earlier and more often. At its core, it is the food choices, healthy or not, that are being made during these key snacking moments that will impact the overall health of Canadians, rather than the frequency of snacking.”

Also evolving is how digital technologies are impacting the way Canadians consume and how they gain their nutritional information. It is important for leaders in the food industry to understand how trends like wearable technologies, sensors in packaging or personalized real-time information about food, are influencing how Canadians are making food choices.

“Eating is a foundation of our daily patterns, social interactions, and well-being. For something so integral to our lives, it's not easy to know if our food choices contribute to healthy people and communities,” said Rebecca Chesney, Research and Communications Manager, Institute for the Future. “Yet with growing evidence to support personalized nutrition, new consumer technologies that verify ingredient and food safety, and shifting demands for fresh and nutritious foods, we are at a pivotal moment of change. We have an opportunity to rethink how and what we eat now and for generations to come.”

As eating and consumption trends continue to evolve, it is important for leaders in the food industry to make improvements. Beginning in 2013, Nestlé has made significant commitments around the area of nutrition, health and wellness. For example, the company committed to reducing the amount of sodium, sugar and saturated fat by 10 per cent by volume by the end of 2016. In addition, to help Canadians make informed choices, by the end of 2016, key products will display daily guideline amounts for calories on front-of-pack and key brands will also include portion guidance communications.

“Understanding more about what Canadians are eating and how they are consuming both positive and negative nutrients is essential for us as we continue to reformulate and improve our products,” said Shelley Martin, President & CEO, Nestlé Canada. “Bringing these thought leaders together today to look at Canadian consumption patterns provided key stakeholders with food for thought on how we can work together to encourage better eating habits.”

The Evolution of Eating in Canada, moderated by Registered Dietitian, President of Nutrition Solutions and Food Trends Expert, Sue Mah, offered academic presentations and a panel discussion with key nutrition thought leaders: Mary R. L’Abbé, PhD, Earle W. McHenry Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto; Kathy Perrotta, Vice-President, IPSOS Reid; Rebecca Chesney, Research and Communications Manager for the Institute for the Future and Jane Dummer Registered Dietitian, Author and Food Consultant.

About the study:

  • In 2013, Nestlé supported the University of Toronto’s Program in Food Safety, Nutrition and Regulatory Affairs to better understand the nutrient intake of Canadians throughout their lifespan.
  • Health Canada recently released its Surveillance Tool (HCST), a 4-Tier system to evaluate the nutritional quality of foods and whether dietary choices are consistent with those recommended in Canada’s Food Guide. Tier 1 foods are in line with the Food Guide while Tier 4 foods are not recommended; Tier 2 and 3 food products have intermediate nutritional quality. 
  • The data in the study demonstrates the importance of examining the foods Canadians eat, meal patterns and occasions, and identifies areas for the food industry and others to focus on innovations that help promote healthier eating choices.

Media Contact:

Nestlé Media Line (416) 218-2688 or [email protected]