BY CARMEN PONCIANO
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has always been something that’s been drilled into our heads. But have you noticed that in the last decade, especially the last five years, this trend has really been taking off? Restaurants with healthier menus have emerged, more gym memberships have been filled out and even fast-food places have had to add “healthier” options to their menu.
Canada has always battled obesity – currently 59 per cent of Canadian adults are overweight or obese. But what is most alarming is the percentage of overweight children. In 1978, only 15 per cent of Canadian children were overweight or obese. Today, the numbers have climbed to one-in-four children.
A movement to help reduce these numbers and to start changing people’s mentalities began in 2005 when Health Canada introduced the Canadian Healthy Living Strategy (CHLS). This plan consists of two initiatives which was created to help improve health outcomes, reduce health disparities, address child obesity and, of course, make health promotion a priority. In 2008 the Ontario government introduced the Healthy Food for Healthy Schools Act which established guidelines in regard to the nutrition standards for food and beverages in schools, meaning that the products sold at school can’t contain more than the prescribed percentage of trans fat. So, goodbye pop machines and chocolate bars.
And thanks to this act, a Food and Beverage Policy was introduced in 2011 which advocates that schools play a major role in helping children and teens develop healthier eating habits and improve learning environments.
“The Harper Government is helping to kick-start this national dialogue to help identify ways we can work together to promote and maintain healthy weights for children and youth,” said Leona Aglukkaq, federal minister of health in a Health Canada news release published in 2011. “Everyone has a role to play in helping children and youth live a healthy life.”
These changes helped make people aware they should be leading a healthier life. As a result, the market has seen a significant growth in consumers buying “better-for-you” products across North America, Europe and Asia, as people are paying more attention to the ingredients in their food.
“People are becoming increasingly health conscious since food and nutrition is linked strongly with chronic disease like diabetes and heart disease,” said Andrea D’Ambrosio, a registered dietician at Dietetic Directions in Waterloo. “People are wanting to improve their health through diet.”
Having said that, promoting “healthy” has become a leading strategy within the food industry. As subtle as it was back then, nowadays when you shop at the grocery store, the majority of food packaging, if not all, have health claims that say “a great source of fiber” or “two of your daily servings of fruits and vegetables,” which have played a major role in how people shop.
“In my private practice, I have seen a steady growth in clients and how people are looking to make dietary improvements,” D’Ambrosio said.
Consumers are now looking for products that have vitamins and minerals as well as ingredients that benefit the digestive system and immune system. People are also looking for products that offer more antioxidants, fiber and calcium and have less sodium, fat and sugar. So fruits and vegetables have become popular again. In fact, they are so popular that the number of vegetarians have increased in the past five years. But have you noticed an increase in certain vegetables and fruits – like kale, spinach, all sorts of berries and pomegranates? Kale, for example, has been in such high demand lately due to its health benefits that, in 2013, sales increased 40 per cent.
However, we can’t forget about organic products, as they have taken off in this healthy movement as well. According to Statistics Canada, “the organic food market is described by industry analysts as the most dynamic and rapidly growing sector of the global food industry.” Once small market, organic food sales have skyrocketed to almost $63 billion US in 2011. Despite the fact that organic products are a little more expensive, grocery stores have had to add their own organic section to keep up with the demand.
Another competitor now playing in the big leagues is food that is gluten free.
“Those with celiac disease require a gluten-free diet for life,” D’Ambrosio said. “I advise clients on how to safely follow a nutritionally balanced gluten-free diet for those with this condition,”
However, even though only one per cent of Canadians have celiac disease, many still feel that they are sensitive to gluten which contributed to the 68 per cent increase in sales in the past three years. Like organic products, grocery stores and restaurants have had to add a gluten-free section or gluten-free menu options.
But for some people eating healthier isn’t just about losing weight or feeling better about themselves, it’s part of a bigger picture – one that includes exercise and reducing stress. It’s a well-known fact that keeping active reduces the risk of heart attack, obesity, other diseases and stress. In 2011, 54 per cent of Canadians, mainly between the ages of 12 and 34, were thought to be active, an increase from 52 per cent in 2005.
With this health initiative the fast-food industry has taken a hit. A 2014 Globe and Mail article stated that one of the biggest companies, McDonald’s Corp., reported a 30 per cent drop in earnings in their third quarter as a result of not being able to keep up with the locally sourced, natural food demand and that Coca-Cola saw their earnings drop 14 per cent.
Nowadays, it is no wonder both are jumping on the healthier is better bandwagon.