Sick Health Policy

Why are Ottawa’s recreation facilities and hospitals contributing to obesity?
By Pam Dillon

We need a re-think on health policy in Ottawa and in Ontario.  Less than a month ago, the Ontario Medical Association issued a press release entitled Ontario’s Doctors Call for Urgent Action to Combat Obesity Epidemic. It said the province’s doctors are calling for “aggressive new measures” – including higher taxes on junk food – to reduce premature deaths associated with obesity.

Why? About a third of Canadian kids are overweight or obese. Most will remain overweight into adulthood, with related health consequences ranging from diabetes to heart disease and cancer. The cost, in Ontario alone, is up to $2.5 billion annually.

Yes, it is a huge deal.

The OMA press release goes on to say this: “Ontario should set an aggressive course with a comprehensive, multi-pronged suite of policies to reverse the course of childhood obesity, including:

  • Increasing taxes on junk food and decreasing tax on healthy foods;
  • Restricting marketing of fatty and sugary foods to children;
  • Placement of graphic warning labels on pop and other high calorie foods with little to no nutritional value;
  • Retail displays of high-sugar, high-fat foods to have information prominently placed advising consumer of the health risks; and
  • Restricting the availability of sugary, low-nutritional value foods in sports and other recreational facilities that are frequented by young people.


Last night, as usual, I was at one of Ottawa’s many fine recreation centres for a youth hockey game. I have been to most if not all of the municipal recreation centres in the region – over and over again. All of them have one thing in common: They are the junk-food equivalent of crack dens. Canteens in municipal buildings sell almost exclusively junk food. Chocolate bars, chips, sodas, pogo sticks, candy – you can get it all.
The canteen is closed? No worries. Even a preschooler can put a quarter or a loonie or a toonie into one of the many junk machines and get an instant hit of sugar, fat and chemicals.

Here’s the kicker. Since my guy got hurt at the game last night, I took him this morning to the Queensway Carleton Hospital (QCH) – home of Tim Horton’s. That’s right. In the course of your health-care visit, you can mosey on down the hall from the ER and get yourself a couple of chocolate glazed donuts and a honey cruller.

If you ask me, this is sick. Not to mention hypocritical. Doctors are calling for obesity action while hospitals are shilling Boston cream donuts and double-doubles? Sick, indeed.

Since the hospital site is undergoing an expansion, it might be a tad more convenient to put the Timmy’s donut selection right in the middle of the ER so after Joe patient polishes off his box of Tim Bits he’s a little closer to the defibrillator.

But it’s no joke. And the QCH isn’t the only hospital site selling stuff that makes people fat and sick.
Donuts are not food. They should not be sold in hospitals. Chips and chocolate bars are not food. They should not be sold at municipal recreation facilities. It’s time – long past time – for some political leadership and action.

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