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Diet quality in Canada

Publication: Health Reports 2009:20(3)

Authors: Didier Garriguet

Data: 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey - Nutrition

Assessing diet quality in Canada

To determine the extent to which Canadians are following the recommendations in the new version of Canada’s Food Guide, this study presents an adaptation of the American Healthy Eating Index for Canada.
The index is based on a 100-point scale.  Diet scores below 50 are considered to be low. Too much saturated fat, sodium and calories from “other” foods (food not included in one of the four food groups in the Guide) tend to bring scores down.

Average index scores

In 2004, the average score for the total population aged 2 or older was 58.8.  Almost 17% of the population scored below 50.

Children aged 2 to 8 had the highest index scores, averaging at least 65.
Scores generally fall in early adolescence, stabilizing around 55 in the 14-to-30 age range.  A gradual upturn through adulthood brought the average score to about 60 at age 71 or older.

At all ages, women’s index scores exceeded those of men.

Fewer than 3% of children aged 2 to 8 scored below 50, compared with more than 25% of 14- to 18-year-olds of both sexes and of men aged 19 to 30

Effect of index components

The components of the index on which Canadians’ scores tended to be relatively high (thereby raising overall scores) were total grain products, meats and alternatives, and unsaturated fats.  Relatively low scores on dark green and orange vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains, and the percentage of calories coming from “other foods” lowered overall scores.

Frequency of vegetable and fruit consumption

Frequent consumption of vegetables and fruits is associated with higher index scores. For example, the average score of people consuming vegetables and fruit 6 or more times a day was 65.5; for those who reported 3 or fewer times a day, the average score was 52.2.  

Taking vitamin and mineral supplements, being an immigrant and living in a household with a higher level of education were associated with higher index scores.

Adding salt at the table, smoking, and inactivity were associated with lower index scores.