Mr. Speaker, food safety and security touches all of us. A growing body of research shows that trans fats contribute to health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. I would like to talk about some of the other factors that impact on people's ability to have access to safe food.
One of the things that we know about is food insecurity. Food insecurity is defined as the inability to access nutritional food in sufficient quantities. This can be related to poverty, low income, neighbourhoods without supermarkets and lack of knowledge on how to prepare food. Food insecurity is significantly associated with poor health, chronic disease, obesity, major depression, stress and food allergies. Food insecurity directly ties into what is actually in the content of our food.
Some mothers reduce their food intake to ensure their children get better food. This compounds the problems of trans fatty acids in foods because these women eat them as a higher proportion of their diet. I have heard stories from mothers who talked about struggling to balance their desire to provide an adequate diet along with their inability to access a sufficient income to provide that safe food.
Lack of choice impacts on people's ability to eat safe food as well. The report, “The Cost of Eating in BC”, 2003, states that a low income family would need to spend up to 44% of its disposable income on a nutritious diet. This compares to the average Canadian who spends only 17%. That is shameful in a country like ours that has access to adequate food and resources to adequately feed all of our population.
Pregnant women living alone on income assistance would be in the most desperate situations.
We know that at least 20% of women and children live in poverty in Canada today. These consumers end up buying food full of trans fat because they are the cheapest option. If the trans fat in those foods were replaced with a healthier fat, their overall health would improve.
Low incomes reduce choice in food buying decisions. Lower income neighbourhoods do not always have supermarkets or stores that provide healthier choices. We need to ensure that the food that is available for people in those lower income residential neighbourhoods is safe food to eat.
Lower literacy levels also remove choice from some consumers as they cannot read and understand or use the food label to make an informed choice. That is one reason that labelling, as a stand alone option, would be insufficient to protect our Canadian population from poor food choices.
Let me talk a bit about literacy. Low literacy limits opportunities, resources and the control which people have over their lives. As a result, people with low literacy have limited opportunities to make informed choices about their own lifestyle. The following information is from the paper on “How Does Literacy Affect the Health of Canadians?”
This is a fact. Twenty percent of Canadians have very low levels of literacy. These people with low literacy skills have limited access to health information, including both written and verbal. Much available information about health, both from health organizations and practitioners, as well as other sources such as the media, is in a written form and therefore very difficult or impossible for many people to understand. The printed word is not a preferred or credible source of information for many people who tend to obtain their information about health via word of mouth.
Health is also a gender issue. As the women's critic, I am pleased to be able to talk about how trans fat impacts on health and women.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women in Canada. We know that the use of trans fats directly contributes to heart disease in Canada. We also know that fat intake affects women differently than it does men. Research is beginning to look at health issues for women as opposed to health issues for men.
Research from the University of British Columbia shows trans fats pass through the placenta to the fetus. In Europe, another study has found that the higher trans fats in the diet of a pregnant woman, the more likely they are to give birth prematurely and have smaller babies. This is a serious lifetime health issue for women and children. I would urge us to take a look at legislation that protects children from being exposed to trans fats in the womb.
Once born, trans fats ingested by mothers is passed to their babies through breast milk. A study by Health Canada found that Canadian breast milk contained among the highest levels of trans fats reported, and that is a shameful statement to date.
In a nurses health study, women who consumed the greatest amount of trans fats in their diet had a 50% higher risk of heart attack compared to women who consumed the least amount of trans fatty acids.
Trans fats may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in women as well. In a 2001 study, researchers found that when women replaced 2% of the trans fats that they ate with polyunsaturated fat, they dropped their risk of diabetes by 40%. This impacts in a major way on our health care system. A recent study showed that high levels of dietary trans fats doubled the risk of colon cancer in menopausal women not on hormone replacement therapy.
There is more. Trans fats have also been implicated in developing breast cancer. A Dutch study suggested an association between the amount of trans fats stored in the body and the risk of disease in women after menopause.
Dr. Walter Willett, a physician and chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, was co-author of a 1993 report on 75,521 women who were tracked in the Harvard nurses study. Women with a high intake of trans fats were 1.5 times more likely to develop coronary disease than women with a low intake of these so-called foods. Data from a preliminary study suggested that diets high in trans fatty acids were associated with an increased risk of preeclampsia, which is induced hypertension and very dangerous for both mother and fetus.
The accumulated evidence on how trans fats affect women and children, and our population as a whole, is a really important issue before the House today. I would urge members to seriously consider supporting this motion. It is the age old story. When we invest in preventive care up front, we save money in the long run.
All of the evidence talks about the fact that as we continue to have trans fats in foods available to the Canadian population, we are actually increasing our health care costs over the long run as we need to continue to spend money on acute care dealing with things like diabetes, heart attacks and cancer. We are putting our health care system under undue pressure. It is really important that we support this motion to ban trans fats and look after our population as a whole.