Future of Health

Overview – Prevention of Chronic Disease

Obesity, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes have reached alarming levels in developed nations in recent years. In Ontario, chronic diseases are responsible for nearly 50% of the public healthcare budget as well as significant loss of economic productivity. We must promote and increase access to affordable, healthy food to improve Canadians’ health and productivity, reduce and delay the incidence of chronic diseases, and avoid healthcare costs, while driving innovation, growth and jobs in the agri-food sector.

The Challenge

Canadians face a diet-related health crisis. Two out of three Canadians are overweight and one out of four is obese. Three out of 10 children and youth are overweight and one out of 10 is obese. Canada ranks 35th out of 40 OECD countries for adult obesity and 33rd for child obesity. Within Canada, British Columbia actively promotes healthy living, and 13% of BC adults are obese compared to 19% of Ontario adults. Fifty-eight per cent of Ontarians have inadequate fruit and vegetable intake.

The notion of choice is key to taking action on obesity and unhealthy eating. Most of us know we need to eat healthy and stay active, so why do people make the choices they make? Influencing behavior, attitudes and system patterns means more than information and marketing. Searching for smart ways of changing an individual’s choices starts with understanding the individual’s experience.

What fuels your food choices?


Finding Solutions

MaRS Solutions Lab will analyze the challenge of obesity and unhealthy eating by tackling the question: “How can we make healthy eating the easy choice for children and youth, contributing to a 20% reduction in unhealthy eating and 20% improvement in healthy weights by 2020?”

Healthy eating means at least five servings of fruit and vegetables, more whole grains, less salt, less sugar and less saturated and trans fat, and fewer calories each day.

We will learn about people’s choices through interviews, ethnographic studies and surveys, and explore individual, community and system perspectives in three settings:  the school, home environment and surrounding stores. Our goal is to identify four to six behavioural interventions that positively impact eating choices across the three settings.

Obesity, food and chronic disease are everyone’s business.

  • What are the best ways to encourage young people and their parents to demand access to affordable, healthy food?
  • How can schools, non-profit organizations, entrepreneurs, food activists and businesses deliver effective interventions that lead to healthy, affordable eating?
  • What would help the producer, processor, retailer and marketing companies put effort into driving healthy, affordable eating?
  • How can governments create a regulatory ecosystem that ensures a level playing field while encouraging healthy food choices?

MaRS Solutions Lab will examine all of these questions while working on this challenge.

Once identified, we will test and evaluate these interventions through the use of living labs based in communities and neighbourhoods in Canada. This method allows for not only the testing of behavioural interventions within communities but also provides a robust feedback mechanism through which these interventions are evaluated and refined  in partnership with the communities.

Complex issues such as the prevention of chronic disease through the promotion of healthy eating behaviour requires a multi-stakeholder approach that brings governments, corporations, non-governmental organizations, foundations, academia and the community together to address a common challenge. The MSL living labs approach integrates these diverse perspectives (especially that of the community) and applies it in an open and iterative manner towards the co-creation and experimentation of behaviour-based interventions.


Applied Behavioural Insights and Promotion of Healthy Eating: Working Paper

Download (“pdf”)

Prevention of Chronic Disease Challenge Brief

Download (“doc”)