Snacks with less sugar to be sold in several communities

GN launches “healthy stores” pilot project



When you see chocolate bars, sweetened fruit juice bottles and potato chip packages at eye level in a store, it's hard to resist temptation, especially when there are no healthier snack foods around.

But soon you may see a brightly-coloured "lower in sugar" sign on some store shelves in Nunavut, indicating alternative snacks such as fruit, nuts or unsweetened juice.

The Government of Nunavut's new "healthy stores" pilot program wants to encourage better eating habits by working with stores in Cambridge Bay, Taloyoak and Gjoa Haven to stock and promote more healthy foods.

The program, developed by nutritionists at John Hopkins University of Baltimore is offered in the Marshall Islands, the White Mountain and San Carlos Apache reservations in Arizona, inner-city Baltimore, Hawaii and the Northwest Territories.

Participating Northern and co-op stores will stock between 15 and 20 healthy food items during certain periods when community workers will promote the items to the public through demonstrations, taste tests and recipe hand-outs.

A new "eat well, live well, pass it on" competition will also encourage people to get more exercise. Organizers will give out pedometers and encourage people to rack up as much mileage as possible by walking or running in exchange for prizes.

Nunavut's public health department says in a news release that, according to a survey, candy, pop and chips are now the most popular store-bought foods in the three Kitikmeot communities involved in the pilot project.

But these unhealthy calorie-laden snack foods are linked to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and tooth decay.

Education is important part of the program, public health officials said at a recent meeting of northern public health directors in Iqaluit.

That's because many people chose sweetened juice instead of pop because they think it's healthier. They aren't even aware that a sweetened juice drink contains even more sugar than pop.

Canned evaporated milk is also commonly used on cereal and in mashed potatoes. For coffee and tea, many people use coffee whitener, although milk costs the same and is much healthier.

In Hawaii, the program is aimed at improving the health of native Hawaiians, who suffer the highest mortality rates of any major ethnic group in the state due to heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.

In the NWT communities of Inuvik and Tukoyatuk, the program, dubbed "Healthy Foods North," has worked with stores to promote healthier breakfasts and coffee drinking.

Customers received samples of higher-fibre, lower sugar cereals and participated in coffee taste tests.

The Department of Health and Social Services wants Nunavut's pilot program to be tailor-made for the Kitikmeot.

So a workshop, held last week in Cambridge Bay, brought the healthy stores program founders, Dr. Joel Gittelsohn of Johns Hopkins University and Dr. Sangita Sharma of the University of Hawaii, together with community representatives who will become the new pilot program's "healthy foods interventionists."

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