The national rate of child obesity in Canada has jumped 300 percent over the past three decades. Between 1979 and 2004, obesity amongst children aged 12 to 17 in Canada has increased from three to nine per cent.
These statistics, and the mounting evidence that connects health problems to childhood obesity, have health researchers and health care professionals concerned. Last week, Concordia University hosted a public forum on childhood obesity to raise awareness about the issue and discuss potential solutions. Three Montreal-based child health researchers led the discussions, exposing various aspects of society they believe have contributed to weight gain amongst the country’s children.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has noted relations between childhood obesity and late onset health conditions such as high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and various cancers.
Dr. Marie Lambert, paediatrician and geneticist at Sainte Justine Hospital, said not all children demonstrate the same risk factors that lead to obesity. One of her greatest concerns, she said, is the effect the weight of a child’s parents can have; children with overweight or obese parents have a heightened risk of becoming obese.
Citing the three-fold increase in childhood obesity, Lambert pointed to certain lifestyle changes that have occurred over the last 30 years, including an increase in sedentary forms of entertainment.
Based on the fact that obesity as a result of genetic disposition can usually take between 20 and 25 years to manifest itself, she said the bulk of this increase can be blamed on lifestyle.
But environmental factors shouldn’t be ignored, either said Dr. Tracie Barnett, whose research at Sainte Justine focuses primarily on the effect a child’s environment has on their weight. Speaking to this, she addressed a need for urban planners to consider the promotion of activity8212;particularly walking8212; in future developments.
“Kids spend more time outdoors when it’s perceived to be safe and interesting,” she said, noting that children who live within 750 metres of a park reported walking more and being more active than those who didn’t.
Barnett cited the availability of unhealthy food as a problem, too. “In Chicago, 80 per cent of schools had at least one fast food restaurant within 700 metres of the school,” she said. Having a ban on fast food restaurants within a certain circumference of a school, she said, could help facilitate healthy eating habits amongst children.
300 per cent in past 30 years: increase in childhood obesity in Canada
20-25: years it takes before obesity due to genetics shows up
80 per cent: of schools in Chicago have fast food restaurant within 700 metres