Over the last year I was asked to sit on an Obesity Task force, by the Honorable health minister, Deb Matthews. The aim of the panel was to decrease obesity in children by 20 per cent over the next five years. There were 18 experts in various industries.
Once a month we spent a full day, for the duration of six months discussing strategies that could be implemented to reduce the risk of obesity in young children across the province.
The three pronged strategy is to:
• Start all kids on the path to healthy eating
• Change the food environment
• Create healthy communities
I don't have to tell you that this is a very tall order! Obesity in children is a complicated issue. It's complex due to the outside numerous issues affecting us such as our home environment, parents, schools, peer groups, food manufacturers, restaurants and fast food establishments.
We live in a toxic food environment where we are constantly exposed to foods that contain excess salt, fat and sugar producing an ongoing addiction. Processed and fast foods are at the crux of the problem. The restaurants, food manufacturers and advertising campaigns are the only ones benefiting from this negative food environment.
There isn't a parent I know that doesn't want the food environment to be healthier. Stress and time restraints force many to get the "quick" fix when it comes to food, and fewer families are preparing meals from scratch. Fast food is convenient and inexpensive now, but at the risk of our children's future health and longevity. Children of this generation are expected to live 10 years less than the current generation.
Start all kids on the path to healthy eating
• Pre-pregnancy health is vital -- what the mother decides to eat and drink for the next 9 months will determine the health of the child
• Breast feeding is the healthiest option for feeding a newborn and should continue for at least the first 6 months
• Parents are responsible for the health of their young children and expected to be their role models
Change the food environment
• The current voluntary programs used to reduce the impact of food advertising to young children have not been effective. It is the time for government to step in to begin the process of devising clear and strict regulations on marketing junk food to children under the age of 12
• Lack of education in food knowledge is one of the causes of why consumers eat poorly.
• Food labels can be misleading and difficult to understand. Consumers are also confused about what they need in terms of calories, fat, sodium, protein and carbohydrates.
• Printing the nutrients on menus or posting on the menu boards would allow for more educated decision
Create healthy communities
• Parents want their children to be in healthy communities where schools offer daily physical activity and healthier foods are readily available.
• Community activity programs must be available in small and large communities
• "Food deserts" known as those small communities who don't have access to supermarkets have the highest rate of obesity. Junk food is cheap whereby fruits and vegetables are more expensive. Healthy foods should be subsidized by the government in these areas.
I feel proud of the report written by my fellow members. But as stated this is a huge undertaking that will take time and patience. I hope I will see the Health Minister be able to implement even small recommendations to our government and manufacturers. But remember that junk food today is addictive and breaking this addiction is not an easy task.
We need support from not only the government but also the manufacturers. In time if changes are not made on a volunteer basis the government must have the strength to begin regulating industries and restaurants. An overweight child means an overweight adult, and this serious cycle will have no end. We no longer have a medical system that can afford to have children who will have full blown serious disease by the time they are in their 30s.