03/10/2013 10:52 EDT | Updated 05/10/2013 05:12 EDT

The Root of Canada's Obesity Problem

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This picture taken on June 14, 2012 shows overweight people checking their weights after their acupuncture and exercise treatment at the Aimin (Love the People) Fat Reduction Hospital in the northern port city of Tianjin. Obesity is a relatively recent problem in China and a recent report by the Chinese Association for Student Nutrition and Health said the number of overweight young people aged between seven and 17 had tripled between 1982 and 2002, a trend that had accelerated in recent years. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/GettyImages)

I had the pleasure of interviewing one of Canada's leading thinkers on the issue of childhood obesity. Dr. Mark Tremblay is director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research at CHEO. The group he leads is working to develop and disseminate innovative strategies to prevent, manage and treat childhood obesity.

We'd first spoken several years ago when the "c" word was not being used to describe the situation.

That word, that journalists know to be wary of, is now the adjective of choice when referring to childhood obesity. Yes, it is a full-blown crisis in this country.

We used to point to our American neighbours with judgmental little fingers when it came to the obesity epidemic. Why are their portion sizes so large? Why are they not active? Why do they make such poor nutrition choices -- stereotypes that now Canadians, and a new generation of young Canadians also find themselves mired in, with no quick-fix solution on the horizon.

This is not brain surgery, rocket science or reinventing of any wheel. But apparently we seem to think so.

I have written on this issue many times over the years and have shared some of the experiments I've done in my own neighbourhood and community to address it, but as I look at the stats -- which are getting significantly worse -- I cannot help but zero in on one aspect of this debate that is getting generally overlooked and yet (in my opinion) lies at the very heart of the matter.

In 2006, my business partner Andrea Howick and I produced a DVD called "Yummy In My Tummy" -- 45 minutes of golden information (recipes, nutritional advice, tips from medical experts) designed to educate and empower parents to set a foundation of healthy eating habits in their children. It featured the past-President of the Canadian Paediatric Society, Dr. Denis Leduc, and one of Canada's foremost nutritional experts, Louise Lambert-Lagace -- whose books remain the bible for parents from several generations.

As my mom told me when I was pregnant with my first child (almost 16 years ago), "children are born with no habits, whatever habits they develop are the ones we create for them." Sooooo true. The "we" here is us "parents."

The goal of "Yummy In My Tummy" was to give parents a simple, trusted and easy-to-use tool to refer to when they are about to begin feeding their children solid foods. THIS IS SO IMPERATIVE. It is somewhere around the 5-6 month mark that regular visits to the pediatrician with your baby are no longer required, however, I would argue it is at this time that you need your pediatrician the most -- when you are about to begin feeding your baby real food.

Let's face it -- prior to entering the world of solid foods, most first-time parents are likely hanging on, eating whatever is in sight for their own dinner, not terribly fussed about preparing a balanced healthy meal (in many cases).

The transition from eating as a couple to eating as a family is a HUGE leap and one not to be taken lightly. It is at this time that parents should be educated to understand the importance of not only how to introduce real food to their babies but exactly what food to introduce. It is at this time that parents have the power to shape their family's eating habits for years to come.

Dr. Tremblay, himself a father of four, told me he has been hammering away at this issue for most of his career, dating back to 1983. He also said that the current childhood obesity crisis is not the fault of any one group. I do believe though that at the end of the day, one group does wield the most power when it comes to swinging the pendulum the other way -- parents.

And when we're talking about childhood obesity, that starts from a child's first morsel of real food.

Watch the video interview with Dr. Tremblay

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