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Thursday, July 6, 2006

Canadian Community Health Survey: Overview of Canadians' eating habits


According to the most recent survey of what Canadians are eating, many people do not have a balanced diet.

The Canadian Community Health Survey: Nutrition, which asked more than 35,000 people to recall what they had eaten during the 24 hours before they were interviewed, shows that Canadians face some nutritional challenges.

Findings from the survey

Over one-quarter of Canadians aged 31 to 50 get more than 35% of their total calories from fat, the threshold beyond which health risks increase.

Seven out of 10 children aged four to eight, and half of adults, do not eat the recommended daily minimum of five servings of vegetables and fruit.

More than one-third of children aged four to nine do not have the recommended two servings of milk products a day. By age 30, more than two-thirds of Canadians do not attain the recommended minimums.

Canadians of all ages get more than one-fifth of their calories from "other foods," which are food and beverages that are not part of the four major groups.

Snacks, that is, food and drink consumed between meals, accounted for more calories than breakfast, and about the same number of calories as lunch.

The report also found that in several respects, food consumption among adults is linked to their household income, but not so much among children.

Many exceed upper limit for fat

According to the Institute of Medicine, an independent, non-governmental US organization, when fat accounts for more than 35% of calories, this may pose a potential health problem. In 2004, fat accounted for an average of 31% of Canadians' daily calories.

Note to readers

This report, the first in a series, presents the initial results of the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey: Nutrition. It is the first national survey of dietary habits since the early 1970s and is the largest and most comprehensive survey ever conducted of what Canadians are eating.

During 2004, in face-to-face interviews, over 35,000 people were asked to recall what they had eaten during the previous 24 hours. The survey also looked at when they ate (breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks) and where the food they ate was prepared, for example, at home, in restaurants or in fast-food outlets.

This report is an overview of what Canadians are eating: how many calories they consume; whether they eat the minimum number of servings of vegetables and fruit, milk products, meat and alternatives and grain products, as recommended by Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating for People Four Years Old and Over (1992); and what percentage of their total calories come from fat, protein and carbohydrates. It also examines economic and regional differences in consumption patterns.

Foods and beverages that are not part of the four major groups are classified as "other foods." Included are: fats and oils such as butter and cooking oils; foods that are mostly sugar such as jam and candy; high-fat and/or high-salt foods such as chips (potato, corn, etc.); beverages such as soft drinks, tea, coffee and alcohol; and herbs and condiments such as pickles, mustard and ketchup.

While this average was within the acceptable range, a substantial fraction of the population exceeded the suggested proportion.

Excess fat consumption peaked among people aged 31 to 50. Almost one-quarter of men and women of these ages derived more than 35% of their total calories from fat.

Although the percentage was somewhat lower at older ages, about one person in five got more than the recommended share of their calories from fat.

The fat Canadians consumed came from a relatively small number of specific foods. The main contributor, accounting for 15.9% of fat intake, was what can be classified as the "sandwich" category. It consists of items such as pizza, sandwiches, submarines, hamburgers and hot dogs. Sweet baked goods, such as cookies and doughnuts, accounted for 8.5% of fat.

Not eating enough vegetables and fruit or milk products

When the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) was conducted, Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating for People Four Years Old and Over, which had been published in 1992, was in effect. The guide recommended a minimum of five daily servings of vegetables and fruit for people of all ages. One serving would be, for example, a medium-sized apple, two stalks of broccoli, or half a cup of juice (125 millilitres).

At most ages, a majority of Canadians ate fewer than five servings of vegetables and fruit a day. In fact, 7 out of 10 children aged four to eight did not meet the minimum. Although consumption was somewhat higher among adults, around half of them fell short of the minimum.

Milk products include not only milk per se, but also foods such as cheese and yogurt. One serving from this food group amounts to one cup of milk (250 millilitres), 50 grams of cheese or three quarters of a cup of yogurt (175 grams).

More than one-third of children aged four to nine did not have the minimum recommended two servings of milk products a day. By ages 10 to 16, about 61% of boys and 83% of girls did not meet their recommended daily minimum of three servings.

One in four had food prepared in a fast-food restaurant

Overall, one-quarter of Canadians reported that on the day before their interview they had consumed something that had been prepared in a fast-food outlet. Among adolescents aged 14 to 18, the proportion was one-third. However, men aged 19 to 30 were the most likely to have eaten something from a fast-food outlet: 39% had done so on the day in question.

Food prepared in a fast-food outlet might have been as little as a cup of coffee, or as healthy as a salad without dressing. However, 40% of patrons of fast-food establishments chose a pizza, sandwich, hamburger or hot dog, and 25% had a regular (as opposed to diet) soft drink.

Many get more calories from snacks than breakfast

Many Canadians got more calories from snacks than they did from breakfast, and a substantial proportion skipped breakfast entirely.

Nearly 10% reported that they had not had breakfast during the previous 24 hours covered by the interview. This was the case for about one-fifth of men aged 19 to 30.

On average, Canadians consumed about 18% of daily calories at breakfast. Snacks, that is, food or drinks consumed between meals, accounted for 27% of calories for children and 23% for adults. The proportion of calories eaten as snacks peaked at 30% among boys aged 14 to 18.

More than 41% of the calories that Canadians get from snacks come from the "other food" category, whereas this category accounts for about 23% of calories overall.

Adult diet linked to household income

In several respects, adults' food consumption was associated with their household income, according to the CCHS.

For example, the proportion of total calories coming from fat tended to rise with income. Almost one-quarter of adults in the highest income households got more than 35% of their total calorie intake from fat, compared with 15% of those in the lowest income households.

Adults in the highest income households were less likely than those in the lowest to have fewer than five daily servings of vegetables and fruit. However, adults, and also children, in the highest income group were more likely than lower income groups to eat food prepared in a fast-food outlet.

The food consumption patterns of children and adolescents were not as closely associated with household income as were those of adults.

Regional consumption patterns

Diets are generally similar across Canada, although each region has consumption patterns that distinguish it from the others.

In Atlantic Canada and in the Prairies, relatively high proportions of residents ate fewer than five daily servings of vegetables and fruit. This was the case for 79% of children and 67% of adults in the Atlantic region, and 75% of children and 57% of adults in the Prairies. These figures compare with national averages of 64% for children and 49% for adults.

On the other hand, in Quebec, relatively low percentages of residents had fewer than five daily servings of vegetables and fruit: 51% of children and adolescents and 37% of adults.

Residents of the Atlantic region ate a significantly large percentage of their calories between meals. Children and teens in that region consumed 32% of their calories between meals, while for adults, the figure was 26% of calories.

By contrast, Quebec residents got a relatively small proportion of their calories from snacks: 23% for children and teens and 20% for adults. A significantly lower proportion of Quebec residents ate food prepared in a fast-food outlet. However, almost 22% of Quebec children and adolescents consumed more than 35% of their calories as fat, compared with a national figure of 11% for this age group.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 5049.

This release is based on the article “Overview of Canadians' eating habits” in the publication Nutrition: Findings from the Canadian Community Health Survey (82-620-MIE2006002, free) which is now available from the Our Products and Services page of our website.

For more information, contact Media Relations (613-951-4636), Communications and Library Services Division.

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Date Modified: 2006-07-06 Important Notices