Regulate distances between schools, fast food restaurants: N.B. dietitians

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A group of local dieticians is trying to convince municipalities to change some of their bylaws to help combat an ongoing and increasing problem. They are working with towns and cities to get a handle on childhood obesity. Paul Cormier tells us how.

Dietitians on a Mission, a group of New Brunswick volunteer dietitians, are on a quest to try and lower the obesity rate among youth in the province.

One way they are going about it is by urging municipalities to change zoning bylaws when it comes to schools to limit access to fast food restaurants around the buildings.

Some high schools in the Moncton area have fast food restaurants within a short walking distance, the organization says, a fact they say has a direct result on students health.

“If kids are able to walk within 15 minutes from the school, it increases the obesity rate by 5.2 per cent in that school,” said dietitian Gina McGraw.

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The City of Moncton has been working with the group to try and see what can be done to limit fast food chains being built around schools.

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“Newer schools are integrated in residential neighborhoods and have very limited risk in term of having new commercial businesses or fast foods located around a new school, so we feel its not a real risk for new schools,” said Moncton urban planner Sébastien Arcand.

But when it comes to schools already built, especially in the inner city, it’s a little harder to control. Most of these school, like Harrison Trimble in Moncton and Mathieu-Martin in Dieppe, are built in commercial areas.

“Even if there was a strong push from the community to ban drive-thrus in that area, those businesses, as long as they continue to operate would be grandfathered in,” Arcand added.

Dietitians On a Mission recognize that changing municipal bylaws is a difficult proposition, but say other municipalities have found solutions.

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“If there’s a fast food close to a school, it can only serve food sitting down and with non-disposable cutlery and plates. So the type of restaurant will be limited in that sense,” said Gina McGraw

They also say education on proper eating habits is a good start, but it’s not the only solution.

“Pretty much everyone knows that giving your kid pop every day is not a good idea, yet 50 per cent of kids drink pop every day,” McGraw said. “So its not that we don’t know, we know education is some part, but its not all we need to do, that’s why we focus on building healthier food environment.”

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