Agriculture and Human Values

, 25:499 | Cite as

School food environments and the obesity issue: content, structural determinants, and agency in Canadian high schools



To understand the phenomenon of the rapidly increasing prevalence of overweight and obese children and youth, it is especially important to examine the school food environment, the role of structural factors in shaping this environment, and the resulting nutrition and health outcomes. The paper examines research on school food environments in the US and Canada. It notes evidence of widespread availability of poor nutrition products in both environments and delineates reasons for the situation, and examines initiatives presently being undertaken in a number of jurisdictions in both countries to encourage healthy eating in schools. Empirical data are presented from a pilot study of high schools in the Canadian province of Ontario. The study documents the extent of student purchasing of nutrient-poor foods and beverages, and the structural factors internal and external to the school that appear responsible for the availability of such products in food environments in this critical institutional sphere. The paper also examines positive local initiatives in high schools that seek to encourage healthy eating in schools.


Canada Food environment Food policy Nutrition Obesity Ontario Schools 



Body Mass Index


US Center for Disease Control (now: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)



The author would like to thank Maxine Fung for her collaboration in the fieldwork phase of this project, and Anita Mahadeo for her efforts with the organization of the data. The comments of anonymous reviewers and the editor were helpful in revising the article. Data collection was assisted by a grant from the University of Guelph.


  1. Advertising Age. 2005. 100 Leading national advertisers. The ad age group. Special Report: Profiles Supplement, June 27.Google Scholar
  2. Austin, S.B., S. Melly, B. Sanchez, A. Patel, S. Buka, and S. Gortmaker. 2005. Clustering of fast-food restaurants around schools: a novel application of spatial statistics to the study of food environments. American Journal of Public Health 95 (9): 1575–1581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Azuma, A.M., and A. Fisher. 2001. Healthy farms, healthy kids: Evaluating the barriers and opportunities for farm-to-school programs. Venice, CA: Community Food Security Coalition.Google Scholar
  4. Berenbaum, S. 2004. Nutrition in Saskatchewan Schools: Policy, Programs, Needs. Heart and Stroke Foundation of Saskatchewan. Accessed June 24, 2007.
  5. Briggs, M., S. Safaii, and D.L. Beall. 2003. Nutrition services: An essential component of comprehensive school health programs. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 103 (4): 505–514.Google Scholar
  6. British Columbia Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation. 2007. School fruit and vegetable snack program, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education. Accessed June 23, 2007.
  7. Brody, J.E. 2002. Schools teach 3 C’s: Candy, cookies and chips. New York Times, Sept 24.Google Scholar
  8. Carter, M.A., and B. Swinburn. 2004. Measuring the ‘obesogenic’ food environment in New Zealand primary schools. Health Promotion International 19 (1): 15–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 1997. Guidelines for school health programs to promote lifelong healthy eating. Journal of School Health 67: 9–26.Google Scholar
  10. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). 2007. Are schools making the grade? School Nutrition policies across Canada. Ottawa, Ontario: Accessed 10 October 2007.
  11. Ferrera, L.A. 2005. Body Mass Index: New research. New York: Nova Biomedical Books.Google Scholar
  12. Fontaine, K.R., and D.B. Allison. 2004. Obesity and mortality rates. In Handbook of obesity: Etiology and pathophysiology 2nd edition, ed. G. Bray and C. Bouchard, 767–785. New York: Marcel Dekker.Google Scholar
  13. French, S., M. Story, J.A. Fulkerson, and P. Hannan. 2004. An environmental intervention to promote lower-fat food choices in secondary schools: Outcomes of the TACOS study. American Journal of Public Health 94 (9): 1507–1512.Google Scholar
  14. Fried, J.E., and M. Nestle. 2002. The growing political movement against soft drinks in schools. Journal of the American Medical Association 288 (17): 2181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gibson, O., and R. Smithers. 2006. Junk food ban attacked from both sides. The Guardian. November 18, 2006. Accessed 3 December 2007.
  16. Government of British Columbia. 2005. School food sales and policies: Provincial report. Victoria, BC: Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health. Accessed 12 June 2007.
  17. Government of Newfoundland. 2001. School Survey of Food Nutrition Policies and Services in Newfoundland and Labrador (2001). Accessed 24 June 2007.
  18. Government of Nova Scotia. 2006. Food and nutrition policy for Nova Scotia public schools: Policy directives and guidelines. Halifax, NS: Departments of Education and Health promotion. Accessed June 24, 2007.
  19. Health Canada. 2002. Backgrounder to the national plan of action for nutrition. Highlights of situational analysis. In 1998 scan of Canadian Nutrition Programs for School Age Children. Ottawa, Canada: Childhood and Youth Division.Google Scholar
  20. Joshi, A., and M. Kalb. 2006. Regional and national level partnerships for supporting farm to school. Findings and future plans from initiatives in the US and Canada. Paper presented at Food Secure Canada Conference, Vancouver, BC.Google Scholar
  21. Katzmarzyk, P.T., and C. Ardern. 2004. Overweight and obesity mortality trends in Canada, 1985–2000. Canadian Journal of Public Health 95: 16–21.Google Scholar
  22. King, A.J.C., W.F. Boyce, and M.A. King. 1999. Trends in the health of Canadian youth. Exercise and leisure activities. Ottawa: Health Canada.Google Scholar
  23. Ko, C., and S. Lee. 2004. Obesity and gallbladder disease. In Handbook of obesity: Etiology and pathophysiology, ed. G. Bray and C. Bouchard, 919–934. New York: Marcel Dekker Inc.Google Scholar
  24. Kubik, M., L.A. Lytle, P.J. Hannan, C.S. Perry, and M. Story. 2003. The association of the school food environment with the dietary behaviours of young adolescents. American Journal of Public Health 93 (7): 1168–1173.Google Scholar
  25. Ludwig, D.S., K.E. Peterson, and S.L. Gortmaker. 2001. Relation between consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and childhood obesity: A prospective, observational analysis. The Lancet 357: 505–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Manson, J.E., W. Willett, M. Stampfer, G. Colditz, D. Hunter, S. Hankinson, C. Hennekens, and F. Speizer. 1995. Body weight and mortality among women. The New England Journal of Medicine 333 (11): 677–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Manson, C., P. Skerrette, and W. Willett. 2004. Obesity as a risk factor for major health outcomes. In Handbook of obesity: Etiology and pathophysiology, ed. G. Bray and C. Bouchard, 813–824. New York: Marcel Dekker Inc.Google Scholar
  28. McGinnis, J.M., J.A. Gootman, and V.I. Kraak. 2006. Food marketing to children and youth: Threat or opportunity? Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Food Marketing and the Diets of Children and Youth.Google Scholar
  29. Marshall, A. 2006. Best practices in farm to school. Toronto, ON: Ontario Farm to School Network.Google Scholar
  30. Manitoba Council on Childhood Nutrition (MCCN). 2001. Food and nutrition in Manitoba schools survey report. Accessed June 24, 2007.
  31. Muñoz, C.A., S.M. Krebs-Smith, R. Ballard-Barbash, and L.E. Cleveland. 1997. Food intakes among U.S. children compared with recommendations. Pediatrics 100: 323–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Must, A., and R.S. Strauss. 1999. Risks and consequences of childhood and adolescent obesity. International Journal of Obesity 23 (Suppl 2): S2–S11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. National Heart Forum. 2006. Loopholes on brand advertising and sponsorship could scupper junk food advertising ban, October 26 []. Accessed 27/06/2007.
  34. Nestle, M. 2000. Soft drink pouring rights. Public Health Reports 115: 308–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nestle, M. 2002. Food politics: How the food industry influences nutrition and health. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  36. OfCom. 2006. Television advertising of food and drink products to children. Statement and further consultation. Accessed 14 March 2007.
  37. Ontario Ministry of Education. 2004. Healthy foods and beverages in elementary school vending machines. Policy/Program Memorandum No. 135, October 20, 2004. Accessed 24 June 2007.
  38. Orpana, H.M., M.S. Tremblay, and P. Fines. 2006. Trends in weight change among Canadian adults: Evidence from the 1996/1997 to 2004/2005 national population health survey. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Health Analysis and Measurement Group Division, Catalogue no. 82–618–MIE, Vol. 2, no. 1.Google Scholar
  39. Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health (OSNPPH). 2004. Call to action: Creating a healthy school nutrition environment. School Nutrition Workgroup Steering Committee 2004 [].
  40. Pi-Sunyer, F.X. 1993. Medical hazards of obesity. Annals of Internal Medicine 119 (7): 655–660.Google Scholar
  41. Pi-Sunyer, F.X., and J. Albu. 2004. Obesity and diabetes. In Handbook of obesity: Etiology and pathophysiology,ed. G. Bray and C. Bouchard, 899–918. New York: Marcel Dekker Inc.Google Scholar
  42. Power, E. 2005. Determinants of healthy eating among low income Canadians. Canadian Journal of Public Health 96: S37–S43.Google Scholar
  43. Pyle, S. 2006. Fighting the epidemic: The role of schools in reducing childhood obesity. Psychology in the Schools 43 (3): 361–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rimkus, L., P. Jones, and F. Ona. 2004. The San Francisco farm-to-school report: Results from the 2003 feasibility study. Accessed 15 June 2007.
  45. Saltzman, E., and P. Benotti. 2004. In Handbook of obesity: Etiology and pathophysiology, ed. G. Bray and C. Bouchard, 825–844. New York: Marcel Dekker Inc.Google Scholar
  46. Shannon, C., M. Story, J.A. Fulkerson, and S. French. 2002. Factors in the school cafeteria influencing food choices by high school students. The Journal of School Health 72 (6): 229–234.Google Scholar
  47. Simon, M. 2006. Appetite for profit: How the food industry undermines our health and how to fight back. New York: Nation Books.Google Scholar
  48. Statistics Canada. 2002. National longitudinal survey of children and youth: Childhood obesity, 1994–1999. The Daily, October 18. Accessed 3 December 2007.
  49. Statistics Canada. 2005. Canadian Community Health survey: Obesity among children and adults. The Daily, Wednesday, July 6, 2005. Accessed 3 December 2007.
  50. Statistics Canada. 2006. Overview of Canadians’ eating habits. The Daily, June 6, 2006, Accessed 3 December 2007.
  51. Story, M., and I. Alton. 1996. Adolescent nutrition: Current trends and critical issues. Topics in Clinical Nutrition 11: 56–69.Google Scholar
  52. Story, M., D. Neumark-Sztainer, and S. French. 2002. Individual and environmental influences on adolescent eating behaviours. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 102 (3): S40–S51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Story, M., K. Kaphingst, and S. French. 2006. The role of schools in obesity prevention. 16 (1): 100–143.
  54. Taylor, J.P., S. Evers, and M. McKenna. 2005. Determinants of healthy eating in children and youth. Canadian Journal of Public Health 96: S20–S26. (July/August).Google Scholar
  55. Templeton, S.B., M.A. Marlette, and M. Panemangalore. 2005. Competitive foods increase the intake of energy and decrease the intake of certain nutrients by adolescents consuming school lunch. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 105 (2): 215–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Tjepkema, M. 2006. Adult obesity. Health Reports 17 (3): 9–25. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, Catalog 82–003.Google Scholar
  57. Tremblay, M.S., and J.D. Willms. 2000. Secular trends in the body mass index of Canadian children. Canadian Medical Association Journal 163: 1429–1433.Google Scholar
  58. U.S. Department of Health, Human Services. 2001. The Surgeon General’s call to action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity. Washington, DC: USGPO.Google Scholar
  59. Vallianatos, M., R. Gottlieb, and M.A. Haase. 2004. Farm-to-school: Strategies for urban health, combating sprawl, and establishing a community food systems approach. Journal of Planning Education and Research 23: 414–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Veugelers, P., and A. Fitzgerald. 2005. Effectiveness of school programs in preventing childhood obesity: A multilevel comparison. American Journal of Public Health 95: 432–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wang, L.Y., Q. Yang, R. Lowry, and H. Wechsler. 2003. Economic analysis of a school based obesity prevention program. Obesity Research 11 (11): 1313–1324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Weber Cullen, K., and I. Zakeri. 2004. Fruit, vegetables, milk and sweetened beverages consumption and access to a la carte/snack bar meals at school. American Journal of Public Health 94 (3): 463–467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wechsler, H., N.D. Brener, S. Kuester, and C. Miller. 2001. Food service and foods and beverages available at school: Results from the school health policies and programs study 2000. Journal of School Health 71 (7): 313–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wilkinson Enns, C., S.J. Mickle, and J.D. Goldman. 2002. Trends in food and nutrient intakes by children in the United States. Family Economics and Nutrient Review 14: 56–58.Google Scholar
  65. Winson, A. 2004. Bringing political economy into the debate on the obesity epidemic. Agriculture and Human Values 21 (4): 299–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Winson, A. 2007. Spatial colonization of food environments by ‘pseudo food’ companies: Precursor of a health crisis. In Interdisciplinary perspectives in food studies. ed. E. Koc, 71–82, Toronto, Canada: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Anthropology University of GuelphGuelphCanada

Personalised recommendations