At its May 12 meeting, many items of varying topics were discussed during Huron Perth Public Health’s (HPPH) Board of Health (BOH) meeting. 

Dr. Miriam Klassen, Medical Officer of Health, provided her regular report to the board, this time with concerns regarding cannabis regulations. Additionally, two letters have been sent by HPPH’s BOH to different levels of government and organizations, surrounding the Federal School Food Policy as well as the nationwide labeling of alcoholic beverages. 

Cannabis regulations

On March 25, Health Canada issued the Notice of Intent for the consultation on potential amendments to cannabis regulations, where they are actively seeking feedback and comments in regards to this. 

Dr. Klassen has responded to this consultation “supporting Health Canada’s goals to protect public health and safety, including reducing unintentional cannabis consumption, overconsumption, and appeal of products to youth.” 

A recent study that examined Emergency Department (ED) visits due to cannabis exposures in Ontario and found that the portion of visits with hospitalization increased significantly after the introduction of edibles into the legal marijuana market. 

Huron Perth had a “similar rate” to Ontario’s ED visit for all cannabis-related harms at 118 per 100,000 population in 2021. ED visits for cannabis-related harms in Huron-Perth have increased since cannabis’ legalization in 2018. In 2017, 59.9 per 100,000 was the number of ED visits. It dropped in 2018 to 52.8, then spiked in 2019 to 103.2. 2021 saw a slight increase from 2020, at 116.1 per 100,000 people. As for ED visits for cannabis-related poisoning, in 2021 Huron Perth had a rate of 17.4 per 100,000. 

“This further highlights the need for regulations which support the reduction in consumption of cannabis products by children and youth, overconsumption, and appeal of products to young persons,” explains Dr. Klassen in her report. 

HPPH’s letter in regards to Federal School Food Policy 

“As the federal government prepares to release a National School Food Policy and invest in programs across the county, we wish to reiterate the call for the development of a universal, cost-shared school food program for Canada and share our concerns about the current state of student nutrition programs in Ontario and our region,” began the letter penned by HPPH’s Board Chair, Bernie MacLellan. The letter was sent to many members of government on all political levels, Ontario Boards of Health and other organizations, such as alPHa (association of local Public Health agencies). 

“Currently across Ontario, many school programs are unable to meet current demands, shutting down before the end of the school year or having to limit the foods served in order to get through to the end of the year due to insufficient funds.” 

Many of these programs have felt a “strain” since 2014, but with the rising cost of food since the pandemic as well as an increase in demand have “significantly out-paced current funding”. “There are urgent and immediate needs now. Children and youth need access to nourishing food to thrive and, without further investment, many will not have access to nourishing food at school,” continued MacLellan. 

“While many schools in Ontario do have student nutrition programs partially funded by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, a significant investment from the federal government would allow for expansion of services and to address existing gaps. The current reliance on fundraising, volunteers, and donations is inconsistent, unsustainable, and puts schools who most need the support at a significant disadvantage.” 

“School food programs offer many academic and nutritional benefits and should be implemented along with additional income supports to reduce health inequities and food insecurity for families across Canada. 

However, HPPH acknowledged that a school food program will not solve all the problems being currently faced due to rising inflation and cost of food. 

“School food policy and programs alone cannot alleviate poverty and food insecurity… school food programs can, however, play an important role in improving nutrition intake, supporting healthy growth and development, supporting academic success, attendance and educational attainment, and improving mental health and well-being.” 

The letter also addressed the facilities that are used for these programs, and the possible benefits of improving this infrastructure. 

“Currently many elementary schools do not have adequate facilities to allow safe food handling and production of onsite food for meal/snack programs or for hands-on food literacy learning opportunities for students. Adequate funding for infrastructure improvements would benefit school food programs and academic learning across health and physical education, science and technology and other cross-curricular learning opportunities, which can build critical food skills for students when transitioning into adulthood.” 

“Huron Perth Public Health Board of Health stands alongside other boards of health, school boards, municipalities, and other government agencies and organizations in supporting the Coalition for Healthy School Food’s vision that every school-aged child and youth has a nutritious meal or snack at school daily.” 

HPPH sends letter to Minister of Health

MacLellan sent an additional letter to Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health for Canada. At its May 12 meeting, the BOH made a motion to endorse Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s (SMDHU) letter dated March 15. 

“The letter from SMDHU outlines how Bill S-254 aligns with Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health, including recommendations for mandatory labelling of all alcoholic beverages with the number of standard drinks in a container, risk levels from Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health, and health warnings.” 

The letter then goes on to warn about the impact alcohol can have. 

“Despite being widely socially accepted, alcohol consumption is a complex public health issue that has social, health, and economic impacts on our local communities. Evidence shows that alcohol is a risk factor for numerous chronic diseases, including cancers, as well as injuries and violence,” explained MacLellan. 

And this is a problem locally as alcohol consumption in Huron Perth is an “ongoing concern”.

According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, from 2015 to 2020, 21.6 per cent of adults in Huron-Perth of legal drinking age reported drinking at a high-risk level (seven or more drinks) in the past week. This was “significantly higher” than the provincial average of 16.3 per cent.

“The letter from SMDHU encompasses recommendations that are applicable and beneficial to communities and residents within Huron and Perth counties. HPPH Board of Health remains committed to working collaboratively with other public health units, non-governmental organizations, health care agencies, and our municipal, provincial, and federal governments to reduce the burden of alcohol on our communities and prevent alcohol-related harms.” 

The Board of Health then called for action at the end of the letter and “urges support for amending Bill S-254 to implement health warning labels on alcoholic beverages.”

By Melissa Dunphy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 19, 2023 at 07:00

This item reprinted with permission from   Listowel Banner   Listowel, Ontario

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