08/27/2014 05:17 EDT | Updated 10/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Mandatory food & nutrition class would help Ontario health, group says

The Ontario Home Economics Association (OHEA) is pushing for at least one mandatory food and nutrition course in the province, saying it would make healthier citizens.

The OHEA said approximately one-third of children in Ontario are overweight or obese and increasing "food literacy" would help more people understand nutrition labels, make meals at home, make the most of their grocery budget and reduce waste.

"We think that all children need to have the basics of nutrition and some cooking skills so that they know how to make food from scratch and don’t reach out so often for fast food or prepared entrees or mixes and other items that are so readily available in our stores," said professional home economist Mary Carver.

"We can see the decline in health in Canadians in general, particularly children, there’s a great rise in childhood obesity… a rise in type 2 diabetes, a rise in high blood pressure and cardiac disease in adults. All of these are lifestyle and diet-related issues and they put a huge strain on our healthcare system."

An OHEA petition asking for at least one mandatory food and nutrition course in Ontario has nearly 1,400 signatures as of 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, with a goal of 2,000 signatures.

Board: we encourage, but can't force

Carver said the current Ontario curriculum has 21 “family studies” courses, seven new ones dealing with subjects such as food and nutrition, food and health and food and culture added in 2013.

"A very small percentage of students across the province actually get to benefit from this excellent curriculum," she said.

The other 14 courses deal with child development, family relationships, fashion design and other topics that used to fall under the umbrella of Home Economics.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said it can’t force students to take courses that aren’t mandatory, but does encourage taking courses that promote health and wellness.

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