This Is a Good Day for Kids
Ontario's Healthy Kids Panel has a plan to reduce childhood obesity by 20% over five years. The panel was co-chaired by Alex Munter, Chief Executive Officer of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and Kelly Murumets, President and CEO of ParticipAction, the national voice of physical activity and sport participation in Canada. They were provided a blue-ribbon panel of 16 members, starting (alphabetically) with Dr. Denis Daneman of the Hospital for Sick Children, whose enthusiasm for the topic no doubt contributed to its excellence and timely performance. The panel's esteemed membership, together with precise terms of reference, a deadline and, I assume, a budget, were all they needed to get started. They delivered – late, but by a mere two months – a 63-page, very readable report. Kudos to the chairs.
The report is about much more than just obesity; it is about the health and well-being of children and youth. In recent decades, the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children has grown by 70%, putting an entire generation at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and arthritis. Childhood obesity is also linked to mental health issues, including low self-esteem, poor body image and depression.
The report provides the requisite background and then the context. This is followed by a three-point strategy:
- Start all kids on the path to health. Laying the foundation for a lifetime of good health begins even before babies are conceived, and continues through the first months of life. We must provide the support young women need to maintain their own health and start their babies on the path to health.
- Change the food environment. Parents know about the importance of good nutrition. They told us they try to provide healthy food at home, but often feel undermined by the food environment around them. They want changes that will make healthy choices easier.
- Create healthy communities. Kids live, play and learn in their communities. Ontario needs a co-ordinated all-of-society approach to create healthy communities and reduce or eliminate the broader social and health disparities that affect children’s health and weight.
Click here to download the entire report: No Time to Wait:
The penultimate section sets out a process headed “From Strategy to Action,” and finally, the panel recommends a series of milestones for the plan's first year of implementation.
What didn't they do? The report acknowledges that, in the end, the panel could not reach consensus on the option of taxing foods high in fat and sugar. Their reticence is due to limited public support among Canadians for taxing junk food. Did they miss an opportunity to lead?
The appendix lists leading thinkers brought to the table, including Dr. Diane Finegood, Dr. Arya Sharma, Dr. Andrew Pipe and others representing academics, educators, First Nations, think tanks, associations, councils and more. No farmers, grocery store managers or confectioners were called upon for input, and the panel ignored McDonald's (which tries; the company limits advertising during programming blocks aimed at children under the age of 12), KFC (which doesn’t try at all) and those large drug marts and small convenience stores that position shelves of snack foods and candies near their cash registers. It would have been valuable, as well, if a creative team representing some reputable advertising agencies had been asked how they might communicate the panel's recommendations and (more importantly) support the implementation program. Getting everyone on board will be the greatest challenge. The panel can be forgiven, but the government might want to hear out a few modern day Ogilvys.
This report and its recommendations can make a difference, and the government appears to be ready, willing and able. This is a good day for kids.
About the Author(s)
Anton Hart wrote:
Posted 2013/10/03 at 01:33 PM EDT
Ontario's Minister of Health and Long-Term Care (Ontario) endorsed the work of this panel. Now cabinet needs to enable it. Minister Matthews' challenge is laid out: (1) Start all kids on the path to health. (2) Change the food environment. (3) Create healthy communities.
As I am working my way through the book "Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked us" by Michael Moss, I dare to hope that the government's cabinet ministers and policy managers will read it too. It helps define challenges that boggle the mind. The government's battle with the food industry will face deep-seated strategies focused on taste and driven by competition. The cost has been large. One industry insider estimated that social costs traced to obesity (and so the food we eat) at $100,000,000,000 a year. And that was 1999. The focus needs to shift to nutrition and health and still work within a competitive market environment. It will take a commitment from industry as well as all levels of government, employers, schools, retailers, advertising agencies, media and individuals of all ages.
Obesity and child health are complex issues. This book is "intended as a wake-up call to the issues and tactics at play in the food industry, to the fact that we are not helpless in facing them down. We have choices . . ."
This book lays out the stark reality of our food environment. The Minister's panel has a work plan. That's a good place to start.
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