"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fighting Childhood Obesity

The problem of obesity has been growing at an alarming rate in Canada for the past 30 years. This growing health problem has translated into a large economic burden, reaching approximately $4.3 billion annually by most recent estimates[1]. According to the ‘Personal Excellence Plan[2]’, a self-assessment tool kit created by the Executive Excellence magazine, physical activity should be part of an individual’s life. It is part of the seven areas of life that need to be addressed in order to become a ‘complete individual’ and realize life goals and individual life mission. The lack of physical exercise and poor diet can affect many areas in a person’s life; an individual stress level can increase concentration and productivity levels decreases, the individual’s happiness is not at its maximum, along with other health related problems. This crisis is even more problematic in children.

Research and data

More precisely, inactive children and unhealthy lifestyles at a very young age are major problems that today’s society need to address. Children living in neighbourhoods with a lower socio-economic status have a greater likelihood of being overweight or obese, according to an article published recently in the Canadian Journal of Public Health[3]. Furthermore, since 1979 to 2004, the overweight and obese rate of children has risen dramatically in industrialized country for children between the age of 2 to 17, for both boys and girls: ‘In 1978/79, 12% of 2- to 17-year-olds were overweight, and 3% were obese—a combined overweight/obesity rate of 15%. By 2004, the overweight rate for this age group was 18% (an estimated 1.1 million), and 8% were obese (about half a million)—a combined rate of 26%’[4].

Childhood obesity and a low level of physical activity have mostly developed in industrialized countries and have important social consequences. According to a CBC news report, children who are overweight at an early age have a higher rate of developing chronic diseases as an adult, such as diabetes, cardio vascular disease and high blood pressure. Furthermore, the news report states that studies show that overweight children also tend to become overweight adult. This therefore shows that the issue revolving around childhood obesity needs to be addressed at an early stage in a child’s life.

In addition, childhood obesity is a recognized problem and its consequences have been identified; the government has therefore started to take initiative to rectify the situation. In 2004, the liberal government increased its spending in amateur sports twice and the conservative government, in their 2006 budget, planned to increase their spending in health and physical activity by 1%[5]. The government is also presently working on other methods and programs. Even with these investments in place, in order to see a significant difference in the health of Canadians children and adults, more has to be done. Concrete programs have to be put in place directly in schools, from the very start of children’s education. Physical activity needs to have an important position in the children’s curriculum.

Also, ¸the government presently has resources in place for families and teachers to help them familiarize themselves with the issue of physical activity and obesity and how to get children moving. The government of Canada has an interactive magazine for children to ‘get them moving’. It can be found at the following address: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/pau-uap/paguide/child_youth/pdf/kids_gotta_move_e.pdf. As for the teachers, the guide is made to initiate children, between the ages of 6 and 9 and 10 to 14 to physical exercises, saying that ‘making physical activity a part of the day is fun and healthy. Encouraging kids to build physical activity into their daily routine helps to create a pattern that may stay with them for the rest of their lives[6]’.

Based on this research, the following strategic plan proposes steps to create a program that will be initiated in primary schools first in Montreal, followed by the province of Quebec to then expand nationally. Initiating a program that promotes physical activity as being fun and essential in one’s life is the initial goal.

‘We need a society that promotes physical activity as being fun and important at a very young age while continuously teaching children and adults the benefits of a physically active lifestyle and constantly improving our social settings to encourage physical activity and healthy behaviours.’

‘Make a positive difference in the life of young children and to give them the tools to develop their physical talents, skills and self-awareness to become active and healthy citizens.’

Having a set of values that includes education, health, making a difference and perseverance at the core will serve as the cornerstone of the program.
Overall Objectives:
-Make people understand the benefits of a healthy lifestyle starting at a very young age
-Help children discover several different types of physical activities and sports
-Help children discover their own talents and skills in physical activity and sports
-Understand the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle
-Have people perceive exercise as fun and essential in one’s life

Strategies and Goals:

The basic strategy of this plan is to introduce fun physical activity programs in primary schools from the very first grade. Physical exercises would be mandatory and various different sports would be touched, including individual and team sports. Schools would each have the liberty to organize the time periods for physical activity according to their plan and schedules, but a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day (excluding school recess) is required at the very start of the program. This amount should increase and be of 90 minutes by the time the student graduates from high school. Schools would also have the liberty to either hirer more physical educators or give their own teachers seminars and courses on sports and physical activity to help them transfer knowledge to their students.

Timeline and Goals
Short-term: 1-2 years
-Schools initiate the program and teachers receive adequate training on the program
-Students are initiated to various sports activities
-Children do 30 minutes of activities per day as part of the school curriculum

Medium-Term: 2-5 years
-Children have acknowledged the importance of physical activity
-Children enjoy and see the benefit of physical activity
- Schools start teaching the basics of nutrition
-The movement spreads to the overall province of Quebec
-The amount of physical activity has increased to 60 minutes per day in primary
schools and high schools as part of the school curriculum

Long-term Goals: 5-10 years
-The movement spreads nationally to every province and territory in Canada
-Children now enjoy physical activity outside of school and apply the principles
learned to their everyday life
-High schools have increased the time allotted to physical activity to 90 minutes per

End Goals:
-The costs of obesity and its related diseases have decrease significantly
-Physical activity has become a core value of society for every social class
-Schools and organizations both promote and encourage physical activity
-The government gives tax receipts for gym membership

Critical success factors
In order to achieve a movement of people fighting the fight against obesity and its health related problems and build the road to a lifetime positive lifestyle, many success factors are required.

First of all, a societal change is necessary. This movement will necessitate the participation of parents, teachers and school boards. Society all together has to take a stand and make the decision to change its lifestyle and encourage physical activity at a very young age and as being an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.

Furthermore, cities and schools will have to invest in improving parks and school gyms to provide an overall good experience to the children and other active individuals. Adequate and safe facilities are necessary.

Third, this program will demand important resources in order to train the teachers in what is proper physical activity at the different stages of the children’s life. Also, every child should be medically followed by their respective family doctor and progress will have to be charted.

In the end, many other aspects of weight and nutrition can be research and analysed to fully understand the impact of television, diet products, social figures and music videos among others on children and their development. This strategic plan is the first step to a better lifestyle for the future generations. Steps are starting to be taken in various countries but more need to be made.

Recently, in the United States, basket ball super star Shaquille O’Neill initiated a program that was shown on the channel ABC called ‘Shaq’s big Challenge’, where very young children diagnosed with obesity were put through a program where they learned good eating habits and performed regular physical activities. Some teachers in the country also initiated the program in their schools and both Shaquille O’Neill and the teachers saw an improvement in the children’s health and school grades. This is just one kind of initiative taken by an influential personality in another country. Now the need is to effectively implement these kinds of program in schools to help children build a better future for themselves and a healthy society.

In conclusion, the aspect of physical health and fitness is often discussed in the news and relates directly with what is called the ‘obesity epidemic’, today affecting more children and adults than ever before. Action has to be taken now to help reverse this course. By starting to initiate children to physical activities there is a possibility that the habit of living an active life will remain all through adulthood. This will have many direct and indirect benefits; the cost to the health care system will significantly decrease, children might be more concentrated in class, self-esteem can increase, knowing how one’s body move and function can help children better understand themselves, adults can reduce their stress levels while increasing their productivity at work. In order to achieve all of that, action has to be taken now.
[1] Starky S. The Obesity Epidemic in Canada, http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/library/prbpubs/prb0511-e.htm#economictxt
[2] Personal Excellence Plan, 2003, http://www.eep.com/Merchant//newsite/pep.pdf
[3] Study: Socio-economic status and obesity in children, 2005, http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/051104/d051104b.htm
[4] Overweight Canadian Childrena and adolescent, http://www.statcan.ca/english/research/82-620-MIE/2005001/articles/child/cobesity.htm
[5] How to get kids moving, improve school phys-ed, 2006, http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/education/physed.html
[6] Teacher’s guide of physical activity for children, http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/pau-uap/paguide/child_youth/pdf/kids_teachguide_e.pdf

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