Canada’s Food Guide: Awareness is high, but relevance is low (Survey)

Friends and family, social media and cookbooks are more popular sources of nutrition info than the Food Guide

Most Canadians are aware of Canada’s Food Guide, but it’s far from top-of-mind as a source for healthy-eating advice.

In a recent survey by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph, 91% of respondents said they know about the Food Guide, and 74% are aware that the Government of Canada recently published a new version.

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Thirty per cent of respondents said they referenced Canada’s Food Guide for dietary or healthy eating advice in the last 12 months. However, when asked to choose their top source for nutrition-related advice, friends and family came out on top (19.7%) This was followed by: general research (18.9%); social media (10.7%); cookbooks, magazines and self-help books (10.3%), and TV programs and documentaries (7.94%). In sixth place is Canada’s Food Guide (7.9%).

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Slightly less popular sources than the Food Guide are: health professional or doctor (7.8%), grocer/retailer (5.3%), and online influencers and celebrities (2.95%). Younger generations (millennials and Gen Z) are most likely to consider celebrities and social media as more important sources of nutritional information than the Food Guide.

“High awareness, little relevance,” is how lead author and professor Sylvain Charlebois sums up this finding. “First of all, it’s been 12 years since the Food Guide was updated. If reviewed the guide every five years, that may help.”

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Secondly, Charlebois isn’t convinced that Canadians have bought into the guide’s new approach, which emphasizes plant-based eating and avoiding processed foods. “It’s very urban and I think it’s seen as non-Canadian , which is quite problematic,” says Charlebois.

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The majority (52.4%) of Canadians agreed they face barriers to adopting the Food Guide. The largest barrier is that recommendations are not affordable (26.5%), don’t fit their taste preferences (20.2%), don’t fit their dietary needs (10.2%), are too time consuming (9.5%), don’t fit their cultural food preferences (5.5%), and the recommended products are not available to purchase in their area (5.1%).

As part of the study, the researchers looked at the affordability of the new Food Guide. They found that if a family of four changed the type and proportions of food they ate from recommendations in the 2007 Food Guide to those in the new Food Guide, it would cost them an average of 6.8% less to feed their family. However, if enough people make the transition to the 2019 recommendations, the prices of fruits and vegetables could increase.

“While we believe the Food Guide is more affordable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will remain affordable,” says Charlebois. “Based on the predictive models that we ran, we are expecting the Food Guide to cost more if we don’t produce more vegetables and fruits.”

The survey of 1,017 Canadians (French and English) took place this past February.