Issues in Health: Obesity in Canadian Children
National decline in children (defined as aged five to seventeen) with a BMI indicative of obesity from 2004 – 2015. Note: this survey defines obese as having a BMI over 30.
|Total % of obese children||26.5%||24%|
In 2004 roughly a quarter of Canadian children were obese. By 2015 only twenty-four percent of the children in Canada were considered obese. This slight downward trend seems promising, but as obesity researcher Angela Devlin indicates the obesity rate amongst adults is increasing, so it is possible a child aged out of the study and fell into the adult range. Therefore, we must take these statistics as a general guideline only due to factors such as the aforementioned. The obesity rate of children in Canada has reduced by only two percent. While this has been a positive result, it is only a marginal one, and one must consider the reliability of the data as the numbers of children surveyed each year may differ.
Obesity carries a heightened risk of co-morbities (“Medical Consequences of Obesity”,Bray, 2004 and “The Incidence of Co-Morbidities Related to Obesity and Overweight: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”, Guh et. al, 2009) such as increased risk of cancer, sleep apnea, diabetes mellitus and many more, meaning that obesity has a direct affect on medical costs from the moment a child becomes obese. An article by Katzmarzyk, P T & Janssen I (2004) said that in 2001 the “cost associated with obesity was $4.3 billion ($1.6 billion of direct costs and $2.7 billion of indirect costs). The total economic costs of […] obesity represented […] 2.2% […] of the total health care costs in Canada”, and is predicted to keep increasing, indicating that taking preventative measure to help children now will save Canadian public money in the future. .While this article does not focus on children specifically, this figures are worth including the see the scope of the problem Canada’s health care systems will face.
With healthcare costs for obesity predicted to rise to nine billion dollars by 2021, both hospitals and the government should be taking the obesity rates of children into account, By working together with schools and other resources to help children become healthier through the prevention and management of obesity it will help reduce the financial strain of obesity on Canada’s health care money in the future.
One potential option for addressing childhood obesity would be a similar behavioural intervention programme to one described by Wald, E R, Moyer, S C L, Eikoff J & Ewing L J (2018) in which participants in the course (aged 9 – 12) managed to show a moderate reduction in BMI and were successful at maintaining their lower weight in the long term. Early intervention will help the children and their families are better educated about eating healthily.
Schools – Case study: banning junk food at schools in six Canadian provinces
In 2005 New Brunswick’s Department of Health instituted Policy 711 which banned all food that did not meet a minimum nutrition requirement. As of 2017 six provinces have instated similar policies. A survey conducted by Dr. Philip Leonard showed that after five years of being banned from junk food in schools, students weighed approximately one kilogram less than students who could eat junk food at schools. While this does not seem like a lot, it proves that a multitude of small policies could be more beneficial on a local scale.
However, there is a limit to what schools can do on their own even with these policies in force. Children’s bags and pockets cannot be searched daily for junk food, and for students in high school it is easy for them to leave the school grounds and circumvent the policy. Likewise, schools cannot mandate additional physical exercise for children with sacrificing time for other lessons, and after-school clubs cannot be enforced.
Low-income groups are at higher risk of obesity (Rao, D. P., Kropac, E., Do, M. T., Roberts, K. C., & Jayaraman, G. C., 2016) because the expense of healthy food compared to non-healthy food is perceived to be high. In a US metaanalysis study it was found that healthier options (whether measured by kcal or serving size) were on average US$1.50 per day higher than eating a less healthy meal. While this is not necessarily applicable to Canada, it supports the perception that eating healthy means spending more money.
Quality of food is typically seen as less important than ensuring there is food enough for everyone to eat due to more important things such as healthcare, utility bills and rent taking precedence. As a result, healthy food is seen as a luxury, not a necessity. If Canada wishes to help this socio-economic group then there should be a form of support for families to seek assistance from. However, taking people’s reluctance to seek help until absolutely necessary into account, then it seems most likely that Canada’s government will have to balance the desires of the food suppliers with the cost of ensuring everyone is able to eat healthily.
Obesity is an issue that has been termed a global epidemic by the WHO and many Western countries acknowledge it as a growing problem, as evidenced by numerous campaigns to make school meals healthier worldwide or provide better education on nutrition in school. Concerning Canada specifically, the issue of obesity is of most concern to the government and hospitals due to the ever-increasing amount of money devoted to helping the obese.
One key way to help reduce obesity would be for the government to provide extra assistance to schools in order for the students to receive healthier meals or extra funding specifically to help students learn more about nutrition. The government must be able to provide funding for larger schemes to be set in place such as childhood behavioural intervention courses or benefits towards low-income families for whom obesity is a high risk.
If the government cannot provide funding for treating an epidemic illness, then making a country-wide policy such as Policy 711 would be a good start towards increasing awareness about health and obesity. Another consideration would be to increase taxes on common junk foods such as candy or soda and provide tax assistance to farmers so that they will be willing to sell their produce for a lower value.
Most importantly, the government should put stricter guidelines in place for food marketed towards youth and young children. As shown in “Legal Action Against Health Claims on Foods and Beverages Marketed to Youth” (Rutkow, L, Vernick J, S, Edwards, D M, Rodman, S O, & Barry, C L) society is becoming more and more aware that advertisers are falsifying information in order to make a food seem healthier than it is. If the government were to heavily fine companies for false advertising along with stricter guidelines, it could help reduce childhood obesity.
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“Controlling the Global Obesity Epidemic” (n.p, n.d.) https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/obesity/en/ WHO. Accessed 10 Mar 2019
Guh, D H, Zhang W, Bansbeck N, Amarsi Z, Birmingham, C L & Anis A H. “The Incidence of Co-Morbidities Related to Obesity and Overweight: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” BMC Public Health, Mar 2009. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-9-88, Retrieved 09 Mar 2019.
Katzmarzyk, P T & Janssen I. “The Economic Costs Associated With Physical Inactivity and Obesity in Canada: An Update”
Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 2004, 29(1): 90-115, https://doi.org/10.1139/h04-008 Retrieved 09 Mar 2019
MacDonald, M “Banning of junk food sales in Canadian schools having a positive effect: study” CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news Published 25 Jun 2017. Retrieved 09 Mar 2019
“Obesity in Canada” https://obesitycanada.ca/obesity-in-canada/ (np, n.d.) Obesity in Canada. Retrieved 09 Mar 2019
Rao, M., Afshin, A., Singh, G., & Mozaffarian, D. (2013). Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ open, 3(12), e004277. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004277
Rao, D. P., Kropac, E., Do, M. T., Roberts, K. C., & Jayaraman, G. C. (2016). “Childhood overweight and obesity trends in Canada” Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada: Research, Policy and Practice, 36(9), 194-8.
Rutkow, L, Vernick J, S, Edwards, D M, Rodman, S O, & Barry, C L “Legal Action Against Health Claims on Foods and Beverages Marketed to Youth” American Journal of Public Health | March 2015, Vol 105, No. 3. Retrieved 10 Mar 2019
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Shows Percentage of Obese Children Has Fallen Nationally”. CBC News, 11 Aug 2017, www.cbc.ca/news/ Retrieved 09 Mar 2019
 MacDonald, M “Banning of junk food sales in Canadian schools having a positive effect: study” CBC News. Published 25 Jun 2017. Retrieved 09 Mar 2019.
 Rao, M., Afshin, A., Singh, G., & Mozaffarian, D. (2013). Retrieved 10 Mar 2019.