A dietitian is calling for a federal food program for kids to ensure more youngsters eat healthy food, after Canada was ranked close to the bottom of a UNICEF report for access to nutritious meals.

Sara Kirk, professor of health promotion at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is urging the federal government to develop a national nutrition program for school kids.

Kirk told CTV’s Your Morning there is a patchwork of programs in place across the country, but a consistent national strategy is needed.

Alberta and Nova Scotia recently increased investment in school food programs, Toronto has increased its funding to more than $12 million annually and Vancouver recently passed a motion to support municipal advocacy for further action.

Kirk says: “We know that when kids are nourished they learn better, there is a lot of evidence to support the benefits to not only kids’ health, but their educational achievement and also the economy.

“We’re asking for federal investment and some direction from the federal government around what this could look like in the different provinces and territories.”

In Canada, provincial, territorial and municipal governments, charities, parents, teachers and volunteers are running school food programs.

In June, Sen. Art Eggleton tabled a motion that urged the federal government “to initiate consultations with various groups to develop an adequately funded national cost-shared universal nutrition program.

A UNICEF report published in June 2017 ranked Canada 37 out of 41 countries in terms of access to nutritious food for children.

Kirk came to Canada from the U.K. 11 years ago, with a focus on chronic disease prevention.

She backs the U.K. government’s recent introduction of a soda tax which sees the money raised channeled back into school healthy eating programs.

Organizations including Diabetes Canada and the Childhood Obesity Foundation are calling on the government to implement a soda levy.

Kirk says a levy in Canada could generate about $1.7 billion.

Meanwhile, Canada’s ban on artificial trans fats comes into effect this week, one year after the federal government announced it would be ending the use of the artery-clogging fats.