Soaring obesity rates may be shortening the lives of Ontario’s children and could result in the first generation of young people who won’t live as long as their parents, the Ontario Medical Association warned Tuesday.
In a report titled An Ounce of Prevention or a Ton of Trouble, the association also calls on the province to take immediate action to combat the obesity problem and recommends one-hour of structured exercise for all elementary and secondary students to help reverse the current trend.
“Doctors, parents, schools and government all have a part to play in preventing childhood obesity and influencing positive lifestyle choices,” OMA president Dr. Greg Flynn said in the report.
According to the latest figures, the prevalence of childhood obesity in Canada has soared.
By 1996, the OMA said, the percentage of boys considered overweight had nearly doubled to 28.8 per cent from 15 per cent in 1981. Among girls, the percentage rose to 23.6 per cent, from 15 per cent.
The prevalence of obesity in children has more than doubled to as high as 13 per cent, from 5 per cent, the OMA said.
“With rising child obesity rates we may be raising the first generation of children who will not live as long as their parents,” the OMA said.
In addition to the health consequences associated with rising obesity rates — ranging from increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure to breathing problems such as sleep apnea — the trend also carries a heavy economic burden.
In 1997, about 2.4 per cent of all health-care spending was related to obesity.
“The increase in the number of children who are at risk of becoming obese adults suggests that the economic costs in Canada will continue to escalate unless the trend can be averted,” the OMA said in Tuesday’s report.
The OMA also noted that obesity during childhood increases the risk of adult obesity. According to studies, 70 per cent of obese adolescents go on to be obese adults.
Only between 25 per cent and 40 per cent of juvenile obesity can be linked to genetic factors “leaving over half of childhood obesity relating to environmental factors,” the association said.
In response, the OMA made 12 recommendations to combat the problem. They include restrictions in access to “nutrient poor foods” in schools and legislation to restrict advertising aimed at children 13 and younger about certain foods that contribute to obesity.
The OMA also wants to see screening for weight problems, promotion of good nutrition and physical activity added to the routine check-up schedule for both children and infants.
The OMA also recommends that OHIP cover obesity counselling, especially for children, and that the province fund regional childhood obesity clinics which would work alongside referring and community physicians.
The report’s recommendation of one-hour of exercise a day in schools is triple that called for in the latest provincial program.
This week, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said the province will soon make at least 20 minutes of physical activity a day mandatory to combat the problem.
“We are going to require, I believe, 20 minutes of activity time in our elementary schools,” he told Canadian Press.
“We made a commitment to move in that area, and we are going to do that.” Globe & Mail