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Understanding the current state of food literacy among Ontario consumers

Messages and the medium must change to improve food literacy among future consumers, according to a new study released today by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). The Food Literacy Attitude and Awareness Research Project set out to gain a better understanding of the current state of food literacy among Ontario consumers, and use the insights to guide future programs, resources and information.

OFA, together with an advisory committee including the Nutrition Resource Centre – Ontario Public Health Association, Ontario Home Economics Association, AgScape, and Farm and Food Care Ontario, surveyed three distinct consumer groups to measure their level of food literacy and provide baseline information, with support from the Government of Ontario in partnership with the Greenbelt Fund.

“We wanted to gauge the current knowledge level of parents with kids at home, teenagers and early millennials,” says Keith Currie, OFA president. “Food literacy is a very timely topic, and one that needs more attention and support because it is so closely tied with public health. We need to understand what consumers – both current and future – are aware of so we can accurately focus resources and information in the future. This study provides an insightful starting point.”

The project included two in-person focus groups to gather qualitative information on food literacy that was used to gather 1,003 online surveys for quantitative information on local food, meal planning, purchasing, preparation and consumption in the home, and information sources used by consumers.

According to the study results, the current ways of reaching teenagers with food literacy messages are neither effective nor impactful. Dietitians generally target their messages to parents and should revise their messages and focus to target teens directly. Most food skills are learned at home, passed from parent to child, making it vital that parents are comfortable with food preparation and have a good knowledge and understanding of health and nutrition.

Other study highlights include:

  • Nearly 25 per cent of all respondents didn’t know any of the food groups
  • Millennials seek health and nutrition information from a wide variety of sources, compared to other consumer groups surveyed
  • Less than 50 per cent of parents surveyed know the safe cooking temperatures for a variety of meat and poultry items
  • Overall, there is a clear understanding of local food products but not of farming practices or food production
  • Local food knowledge does not differ significantly depending on where the respondents live (rural, urban, suburban)
“The information we gather now serves as a guide for OFA and other partners to identify future needs, including public policy, to develop stronger food literacy components in our curriculum and through other programs and resources,” says Currie. “We are already working with a registered dietician to develop a meal plan for teenagers to help them understand how to put together a properly, balanced meal. This will be a great addition to our program.”

“It is important for Ontarians to know about where the food on their plate comes from and the great benefits our agriculture sector brings to the economy,” said Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Fund. “These insights provide an important benchmark to measure progress on local food literacy, and I am confident that our ongoing work with the OFA and other farm organizations will continue to move the needle, particularly among younger Ontarians.”

The complete Food Literacy Attitude and Awareness Research Project report is available at

December 5, 2017  By Press release - OFA


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