Last year, City of Edmonton recreation centres and pools received more than eight million visitors. As these facilities continue to flourish as important social spaces, the City is committed to helping Edmontonians make positive choices in all aspects of health and wellness, including nutrition.
In 2009, City Council empowered administration to make bold changes to ensure food and beverages being offered in recreation centres aligned with efforts to promote healthy living in Edmonton. From that, guidelines were put in place to ensure that a minimum of 50 per cent healthy choices were being made available via the snack and beverage vending machines in City of Edmonton-operated recreation centres and attractions.
Having successfully implemented a Milk 2 Go program in recreation centres in 2008, Gary Dewar, Marketing and Sales Supervisor for the City’s Community and Recreation Facilities branch of the Citizens Service Department, was keenly aware of the public appetite for healthy choices and became involved in a number of first steps to see that changes were made quickly.
Dewar and his team initiated discussions with contractors to determine how healthier choices could make their way into facilities. They also sought assistance from Alberta Health Services in using the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth to support healthy eating in their centres.
“We are currently part of an exciting 18-month research program sponsored by the Heart and Stroke Foundation called Eat, Play, Live, where we are piloting a number of strategies in select facilities and monitoring the sales impact on healthier items.” said Dewar.
Through August and September, Hardisty Leisure Centre and and Clareview Rec Centre piloted this project, offering 100% healthy choice vending machines with snacks like baked chips and granola bars rather than the usual chocolate bars and candy.
In addition to these initial steps, the City consulted with Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, and Winnipeg to determine what strategies, if any, were being used by those cities to offer healthier food options in recreation centres.
Since new guidelines were implemented in 2010, the City of Edmonton has incorporated the provision of healthy choices among the criteria used to evaluate requests for proposals from food and beverage partners. And new vendors hoping to operate within recreation centres are judged based on their plan to support the City’s “FRESH” strategy.
“This approach has resulted in healthier options for visitors in many of our facilities thanks to the introduction of new food service providers including Moo’s Healthy Food Fast at Kinsmen Sports Centre and select Arenas, Culina at Muttart Conservatory, Dogwood Cafe at City Golf Courses, Jugo Juice, Good Earth Coffee Company, Wild Earth Cafe and others,” said Dewar.
While there have already been significant changes to nutrition in City recreation centres, Dewar and his team at the City continue to encourage partners to work on new and engaging strategies and challenge customers to make healthy choices when they faced with the option.