When it comes to kids, health, and obesity, there’s want to do, should do, and must do.
I just finished reading No Time to Wait: The Healthy Kids Strategy [PDF]. The report was driven by the Ontario government’s ambitious goal to, by 2018, reduce childhood obesity rates by 20 percent. No Time to Wait lists a number of strategies to address this weighty issue.
Noble, but the report is fundamentally flawed: childhood health comes from much more than weight. It requires that kids engage in regular, moderately intense physical activity. And that key factor is missing from No Time to Wait.
The alarming obesity rate for Canadian kids
There is a childhood obesity crisis in Canada. In 1981, the percentage of obese children was only 1.85 percent. By 1996 it had climbed to 9.55 percent. In 2009 it was 11.7 percent.
To reach the target set by No Time to Wait, the obesity rate must drop to 9.4%, a reduction of just over 2%.
This means we need to stop an upward trend and reverse it. It’s like stopping a locomotive speeding downhill and then pushing it back again.
I applaud this goal. It is a must do. And we can’t stop there!
The health of children has become a “must do”
Now comes No Time to Wait, which indicates it offers up a no-holds-barred, gloves-off approach to making children healthier. I confess to getting excited when I read these sorts of words, as they are absolutely right. We need country-wide societal change to occur and we need it now!
We have had society-wide success on a few preventative fronts: seat belts, recycling, CPR, brushing teeth, and not smoking in public indoor spaces. It is possible.
Failing to take action now means the trajectory of childhood obesity won’t change. And, if that happens, the measures inevitably needed in the future will be much more difficult to accept than the package we are recommending here.
—No time to Wait: The Healthy Kids Strategy, a report to Ontario’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care published in March 2013
But while No Time to Wait is strong on a number of fronts, including some thoughtful food recommendations, the report could have gone further.
How to fund obesity prevention strategies
We spend about $5 billion per million of Canadians on health care, and a paltry $0.16 billion per million in prevention. No Time to Wait asks for $80 million in new funding for prevention. It’s necessary but it’s barely a drop in the – very dry – bucket.
I would have included a “junk food levy” to generate revenue for prevention campaigns. Canadians didn’t even blink an eye when an “enviro levy” was placed on plastic bottles. Would they mind if we added a couple of pennies to the sale of each piece of food that is calorie rich and nutrient low?
And what about a “drive-thru” tax? And any transaction completed from inside a vehicle, whether at a bank, coffee shop, or fast food joint, could be levied a few pennies.
These are things we must do to fund obesity prevention and education strategies. If we’re spending $5 billion on health care, which is how we treat problems leading from obesity, we need an equal amount in prevention to stop the obesity locomotive and turn it around.
What really troubled me about No Time to Wait is its recommendations dealt only with attempting to reduce the amount of fat on children’s bodies. That alone will not make children healthy.
The factors that contribute to health
You cannot be healthy simply by eating healthy. Our Canadian physical activity statistics reveal that the vast majority of children fail to meet the minimal activity guideline, so eating healthier is not healthy in and of itself.
Health comes from good nutrition as well as from regular physical activity at moderate and above intensities. Those together lead to:
- better bones
- better heart
- better brain
- better muscles
- better psychology
- better social life
- less disease
- a reduction in your likelihood of personal tragedy
Not to mention how the tag-team of nutrition and exercise would benefit our health-care system.
But the report doesn’t fully address all the factors that contribute to health.
What’s missing from No Time to Wait: physical activity
Where are the must do physical activity recommendations in No Time to Wait?
Where are the strong recommendations for the recreation, sport, and exercise sectors?
Where are the strong recommendations for physical and health education?
Where are the strong recommendations for recess?
There are fewer than two pages on physical activity, and most of that space is devoted to complaining about how the daily physical activity (DPA) mandate in schools has failed.
No Time to Wait contains no bold recommendations for that critical component to the health of a child: physical activity.
To say I was disappointed doesn’t begin to get at my frustration. I literally slumped in my chair.
There really is no time to wait
Every colleague that has read No Time to Wait had the same reaction: where’s the physical activity piece? There are many obvious bold moves that could be made on this front – and Ontario has dropped the ball.
As the co-chairs of the report admit: “They [the children] deserve nothing less”.
Our children need to be healthy. And to achieve this they need physical activity provision through the home environment, the school setting, and in the recreation and sport sectors.
This is a must do.
Canadian children deserve nothing less.