Shift the focus to healthy behaviours

By: Barb Duncan

Are you worried about the size of your children? The latest report from Statistics Canada shows about a third of Canadian kids are overweight or obese. That fact has parents wondering what to do, since excess weight in childhood can lead to a host of health issues. While the findings reveal child obesity rates have not budged in recent years, health authorities say plenty can be done within the family to make a difference.

That’s good news. It means parents have the opportunity to improve family health habits and make small, gradual changes that will benefit kids for a lifetime. Active Healthy Kids Canada says change is definitely overdue. Its 2012 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth gives family physical activity a D+. This low mark is because less than 40 percent of parents reported playing actively with their kids. The national organization encourages parents to be positive role models by initiating and joining in active playtime.

It also makes other recommendations. “Parents need to reduce screen time, keep the TV out of their child’s bedroom, institute screen time limits and encourage time spent outdoors, every day, instead of in front of the TV or playing video games.”

This year’s report card also stresses youngsters are not playing enough — period, especially outdoors. “Forty-six percent of kids are getting three hours or less of active play per week, including weekends.”

Marc Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity (HALO) research at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, sees screens as a culprit in the decline of active play. They also have an impact on diet, he suggests. “When we’re in front of screens, our hands tend to be idle and there tends to be more incidental eating,” he points out in an interview with CBC News.

His advice? Make physical activity part of the daily routine, even if it amounts to getting the kids to do chores around the house during commercial breaks. Better yet, get the kids outside. “There’s certainly no replacement for getting out into the world’s biggest playground that we have right outside our doors here in Canada,” he declares.

While the focus tends to be on kids’ size, Tremblay wants to see it shift in a different direction. “I think our fixation on obesity, or even weight, is misguided. What we need are healthy active living behaviours.” That means “moving well, eating well, sleeping well” and going outside to play.

Tips to kick-start outdoor family activity:
• Go for a family walk after dinner to see the seasonal lights.
• Go skating on an outdoor rink or on the canal.
• Walk the dog as a family.
• Go sliding and build snow forts.
• Plan a family hike on one of the nearest nature trails.
• Explore a new part of the neighbourhood on foot.
• Have the kids help shovel the walkway or driveway.

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