by Alan Viau
Statistics Canada has released a report that should scare parents about the future health of their children. Over the last 37 years, childhood obesity has exploded for both boys and girls aged three to 19. This trend predicts that we will have an obese adult population more at risk for diabetes and heart diseases than ever before. Parents should consider lifestyle changes to influence the health outcomes of their children.
The year 1976 was when I graduated from high school. Looking at an old photo of my high school track team, we were an active healthy bunch. At that time, the statistic for childhood obesity in Canada and the United States was that same at five per cent.
Unfortunately, since then the rate of obesity has shot up dramatically among kids under age 19. In Canada, it has more than doubled to 13 per cent. Even more alarming is that number in the United States has more than tripled to 17.5 per cent.
The details of the data are revealing. Girls in Canada were noticeably less obese that girls in the United States. For example, the gap was largest for girls aged seven to 12: In that age group, the obesity rate in the United States was 18.5 per cent, more than double the number—8.7 per cent—for Canadian girls.
Obesity Rates for Girls in Canada and United States. Source: Statistics Canada
There were no significant differences in the prevalence of obesity between American and Canadian boys. It is startling to see obesity rates of around 20 per cent in boys aged seven to 19!
Obesity rates for boys in Canada and United States. Source: Statistics Canada
In both countries, girls were less obese than boys by about five per cent.
Why is it important to note these trends? It is because obese children and adolescents are at risk of becoming obese adults and can experience immediate health consequences such as psychosocial stress, elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, and abnormal glucose tolerance. These health issues will lead to increases in heart diseases and diabetes in our adult population.
These trends are a call for action to parents. Unless this momentum changes, today’s parents are raising tomorrow’s sick adults. One major contributing factor is diet. In the same time period of this study, daily caloric intake increased by 500 calories. All those calories add up. However, help is available.
For example, Health Canada’s website outlines optimal dietary intake for all ages. Parents, more than ever, have the responsibility of examining their children’s diets and activity levels with the aim of reducing obesity now for a healthier future.