An initiative sponsored by the Association pour la santé publique du Québec

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Translation of this website has been made possible through financial support from the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and Health Canada.

The views expressed herein represent the views of the Weight Coalition and do not necessarily represent the views of the project funders.


Snapshot of the Situation

In Quebec, the government reference guide titled Vision de la saine alimentation (A vision of healthy eating) proposes that public institutions operating in the fields of education and health offer primarily good or excellent choices in terms of nutritional value and avoid the sale of products that should be consumed only on an occasional basis, such as sugar-sweetened beverages and fried food. Accordingly, food policies have been adopted in order to underscore the fact that these environments should set an example.

In schools: progress, yes, but still a way to go

The various assessments of the Framework Policy [1, 2, 3] show that positive changes have been made to improve the quality of the food served in schools. However, a few weak points still remain, including:

  • sugar-sweetened beverages still sold in many schools (particularly high schools)
  • trans fat not entirely removed from menus
  • whole grains rarely offered
  • children’s eating environment lacking appeal and conviviality more often than not (only 38% of institutions deem that they have an eating environment that renders mealtime an enjoyable part of the day)

The major obstacles to implementing the healthy eating component of the Framework Policy are:

  • lack of financial resources
  • restaurants and convenience stores in the vicinity of school
Water fountains

Other data have revealed that 36% of public elementary schools [4] and 23% of public secondary schools [5] have no water fountains in or near the premises where meals are taken, whereas there should be many of them in all schools.

Vending machines

According to an assessment of the Framework Policy implementation, vending machines are a rarity in elementary schools (only 2% have any). However, at the secondary level, they are found in 40% of schools, with a considerably higher proportion among private institutions relative to the public system.

Around schools: a competitive environment to bear in mind

In order to attract consumers, the fast-food industry banks on a cost-effective strategy: make its restaurants more accessible to one target group in particular, namely, children and adolescents, who are entering the consumer market at a younger and younger age [6, 7].

Ease of access being a key reason for eating in fast-food restaurants [8] and given the fact that children lack a sufficiently sharp critical sense to resist peer pressure or to see through marketing strategies, it is profitable for these restaurants to open in the vicinity of strategic places, such as hospitals, companies, business areas, and schools [9].

In Quebec:
  • about 37% of public schools have one or more fast-food restaurants located within a 15-minute walk from them [10]
  • 89% of children estimate that these restaurants are close enough to go eat outside school at lunchtime [11]

The presence of a fast-food restaurant within 160 metres from a school raises the obesity rate 5.2% among the young people at that school [12].

The food options offered by restaurants and convenience stores in the vicinity of schools can thwart the efforts of schools to go the healthy route. It is therefore important that the resources that accompany the framework policy be sufficient to give schools the possibility to offer healthy food that is competitive and alluring and to do so in comfortable, inviting premises.

Health and social services institutions: health promoters

The reference guide Miser sur la saine alimentation : une question de qualité (Targeting healthy eating: a question of quality) intended for health and social services institutions was launched in 2009. The institutions had until March 2013 to complete implementation of their food policy.

Although no assessment of implementation is yet available, the experience of numerous settings can nonetheless inform us on certain obstacles that limit the success of food policies, including:

  • problem of supply regarding affordable healthy food products
  • lack of resources to search for products meeting established criteria
  • lack of resources to set up effective communication activities to facilitate this change process



[1] et [4] Institut national de santé publique du Québec (2012). Portrait de l’environnement alimentaire dans les écoles primaires du Québec. Repéré le 13 août 2013.

[2] et [5] Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (2012). Bilan de mise en œuvre de la politique-cadre Pour un virage santé à l’école. Repéré le 13 août 2013.

[3] Morin, P., Demers, K. et Grand’Maison, S. (2012). Enquête sur l’offre alimentaire et d’activité physique dans les écoles du Québec : Principaux constats à l’égard de la Politique-cadre « Pour un virage santé ». Faculté d’éducation physique et sportive. Université de Sherbrooke. 40 pages.

[6] Austin, S.B., Melly, S.J., Sanchez, B.N., Patel, A., Buka, S., Gortmaker, S.L. (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, Sep. 95 (9): 1575-81.

[7] Mikkelsen, L., Chehimi, S. (2007). The links between the neighbourhood food environment
and childhood nutrition. Prevention Institute, California, USA: Robert Wood Johnson

[8] Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (2011). Enquête québécoise sur la malbouffe. Repéré le 15 février 2012.

[9] Rydell, S., Harnack, L., Oakes, J., Story, M., Jeffery, R., French, S. (2008). Why eat at fast-food restaurants: reported reasons among frequent consumers, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108 (12): 2066-70.

[10] Robitaille, E., Bergeron, P. et Lasnier, B., (2009). Analyse géographique de l’accessibilité des restaurants-minute et des dépanneurs autour des écoles publiques québécoises. Québec : Institut national de santé publique du Québec.

[11] SOM (2010). Étude portant sur les habitudes alimentaires les jours d’école auprès des élèves du secondaire 2e cycle

[12] Currie, J., Della Vigna, S., Moretti, E., Pahtania, V. (2009). The Effect of Fast Food Restaurants on Obesity, National Bureau of Economic Research – NBER, working paper #4721.