Spotlight: Programs that address Social Determinants of Health- Breakfast Programs.

The improved physical and mental health of young Canadians can be attributed to access to nutritious foods, a healthy diet, regular physical activity and reduced sedentary behaviour (Freeman, King & Pickett, 2012). This is why breakfast programs within Ontario schools are essential to the healthy development of our youth today as evidence has shown that a healthy and nutritious breakfast is essential to healthy youth development by improving health and academic success. Youth who are living in at-risk areas and in poverty may not be able to access nutritious food for breakfast or breakfast at all. Schools that participate in breakfast and lunch programs therefore would be fostering the positive and healthy development of youth by providing children with the means to develop properly physically and mentally.

One social determinant of health that can be addressed through breakfast programs is food insecurity (Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, 2013). When there is a lack of nutritious food at home, children are the primary concern as they may experience problems around development and growth (Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, 2013).   Breakfast programs can provide food security to those families in need. Moreover, cooking clubs or classes that are available in schools also help to inspire children to cook healthy meals at home (Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, 2013).

According to Giles, et al., public health officials recognize the need to address social economic determinants of health such as food insecurity to help improve population health. Studies show that when better supports are put in place in schools to improve the fitness and nutritional needs of youth, this will positively impact a students’ academic achievement (Giles, et al.). Schools have measured through test scores an improvement in academic success since putting in place programs at the school level to address student health (Giles, et al). They also found that students who participated in healthy behaviours such as eating nutritious foods were at lower risk for partaking in risky activities and had a better chance at academic success (Giles, et al.). Overall, a better academic performance ultimately leads to “lower rates of health problems and risk for incarceration, as well as enhanced financial stability during adulthood” (Giles, et al., p. 735). Therefore, a healthier more supported youth will lead to better adult health outcomes. Giles et al. found that  “individuals with more education are likely to live longer; experience better health outcomes; and practice health-promoting behaviours such as exercising regularly, refraining from smoking, and obtaining timely checkups and screenings” (Giles, et al., p. 735). This is why it is essential that education systems continue to implement programs that will improve the health of youth such as the breakfast programs to enhance the development and well-being of our children today.

Additionally, Palakshappa & Skelton found that low income youth who have the opportunity to partake in lunch or breakfast programs “have lower rates of food insecurity, improved dietary intake, and higher academic achievement” (p. 1). They also found that if low income families with food insecurity are provided with the opportunity to engage in a program where they can access nutritious food, they will use the resources provided.

Ontario school boards do currently participate in breakfast programs. For example, the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board partners with Food4Kids, a not-for profit that cooks and delivers healthy meals to local children who do not have access to healthy and nutritious food. It is extremely important for breakfast programs such as these to be implemented into all schools in Ontario, especially those that are labelled as high-risk on the Social Risk Index, to improve social determinants and population health. The hope is that by improving social determinants of health such as food insecurity, this will improve health outcomes and reduce the prevalence of high-cost healthcare users in the long-term. Overall, food insecurity is a social determinant of health that needs to continue to be addressed within the school system to foster the positive development of youth into healthy and successful adults.

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Giles, W., Hunt, H., Lewallen, T. C., Potts-Datema, W., & Zaza, S. (2015). The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Model: A New Approach for Improving Educational Attainment and Healthy Development for Students. Journal of School Health, 85(11), 729-739. Retrieved from

Gligoric, J. (2017, March 7). HWDSB Staff Partner with Food4Kids on Student Nutrition. Retrieved from

John G. Freeman, Matthew King, and William Pickett. (March 2012). The Health of Canada’s Young People: A Mental Health Focus. Public Health Agency of Canada. Retrieved from

Palakshappa, D. & Skelton, J. A. (2018). What a Summer Nutrition Benefit Program Could Mean for Clinicians and Their Patients. Pediatrics, 141(4), 1-3. Retrieved from

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (2013). Addressing Social Determinants of Health in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: A public health perspective on local health, policy and program needs. Guelph, Ontario. Retrieved from