The need for a Canadian food and nutrition surveillance system has been recognized for some time. Those with an interest in food and nutrition include a variety of organizations from the public and private sectors, such as federal, provincial and territorial governments, academia, non-government organizations, food associations and industries. All recognize the need for a strong evidence base to support programs and policies. Availability of food and nutrition data is an important element of the evidence base.
A common understanding of the elements of a food and nutrition surveillance system for Canada is critical. To facilitate the dialogue among partners and stakeholders and optimize input and involvement, Health Canada uses the Conceptual Model of a Food and Nutrition System (PDF Version - 388 K). It points to the potential areas for data collection, analysis, surveillance related research, dissemination and implementation and supports the need for a systematic approach to surveillance activities, which can be applied to other domains such as research and policy. The Conceptual Model identifies potential linkages across all sectors of the food and nutrition system, including agricultural, social, medical and economic sectors, and the interrelations of food and nutrition to health. It is a starting point to engage partners and stakeholders in a dialogue that can lead to a co-operative approach to surveillance. A comprehensive surveillance system based on the conceptual model will more efficiently support the development of policies in food and nutrition.
A food and nutrition surveillance system should reflect the domains identified in the Conceptual Model. It would be based on a broad range of information from the food supply and its distribution to food consumption, utilization and health outcomes. This "Food to Health" pathway highlights the essential components of a food and nutrition surveillance system. It can be used as a framework to identify existing sources of information on food and nutrition and for the identification of gaps or deficiencies that currently exist in the system.
The Model depicts both the central elements of the pathway and some of the many influences and determinants that must be considered when planning comprehensive surveillance. For ease of reference, the central elements of the pathway are represented by the orange boxes, and the influences by the white boxes. The influences provide complementary information to better explain some of the central elements. A better understanding of the influences enhances interpretation of data collected related to the central elements. More information about some of these influences can be found in a special supplement to the July/August 2005 issue of the Canadian Journal of Public Health: Understanding the Forces that Influence Our Eating Habits: What We Know and Need to Know.
This model also includes the pressures and influences that have no hard and fast boundaries, including issues with a more global perspective or impact such as government policies and emerging trends. Consumers are included, as well, to emphasize the direct and indirect influence they have at many points along the Food to Health pathway.