Pregnant women living in difficult socio-economic situations can apply to be part of the Olo (œuf-lait-orange) nutritional support program offered throughout the province. Available through CLSCs and some community organizations, the program provides eggs, milk, and frozen vegetables, as well as prenatal vitamins to encourage good eating habits during pregnancy and enable babies to be born healthier.
Founded in 1991, the Olo Foundation reaches 15,000 families each year, distributes 500,000 food vouchers to families getting its follow-up care, and has helped more than 250,000 babies be born healthy. Though eggs, milk, and orange juice were the three foods Olo originally provided, advances in nutritional knowledge and recommendations from Canada’s Food Guide led the foundation to replace juice with vouchers for frozen vegetables in 2019.
Program reduces stress
In its Raising Canada 2020 report, the national organization Children First Canada identified “food insecurity”, one’s ability to afford/access food, as one of the top 10 threats to childhood in Canada. Almost one in seven (14.6 per cent) of Canadians said they were living in a household where this was an issue in the past 30 days.
A study by McGill researcher Suzanne King after Quebec’s 1998 ice storm showed that stress during pregnancy can have negative effects on the fetus, impacting child development long after they are born. The anxiety and stress surrounding food insecurity can increase depression and nutritional deficiencies, leading to increased risks of preterm birth, low birth weight, and chronic diseases.
The current crisis has exacerbated stress and food accessibility, and pregnant women already in precarious financial situations have been hard hit. Concerned that an outcome similar to what was seen after the ice storm, on May 7, 2020, the Olo Foundation launched an emergency fundraising campaign to help even more vulnerable pregnant women access healthy food.
Benefits for mother and baby
A 2016 study by UQAM economics professors Catherine Haeck and Pierre Lefebvre highlighted the program’s effectiveness and cost-efficiency. Some findings of the study showed that:
- With an average cost of $543 per baby, the Olo program saved between $600 and $700 in hospital costs due to health problems related to low weight.
- Olo babies have an average weight 70 grams higher than those born in the same region and same socioeconomic context than before the implementation of the program.
Benefits for pregnant women include an increase in breastfeeding, fewer cases of postpartum anemia, less postpartum depression, and improved parent-child attachment.
Join the program
To avail of the program, pregnant women need to make an appointment with an Olo coordinator at their local CLSC to determine whether they meet the eligibility criteria.
Once admitted, food distribution and follow-up care will begin in the twelfth week of pregnancy, and generally end at the birth of the child. Pregnant women are monitored weekly by a nutritionist, a nurse, or a social worker, as required. And though cancelled due to the pandemic, weekly group meetings are usually available. In some cases, Olo care may continue after the birth, to offer additional support in continuing a healthy lifestyle through meal planning and better food choices.
Contact your local community services centres (CLSC) to apply for the Olo Program.
For more information about the foundation, and its program and tips for eating well, cooking, and family mealtimes, visit fondationolo.ca/en
Related read: Becoming a parent during a pandemic