‘PARTS of the world are quite literally eating themselves to death," declared World Health Organization directorgeneral Dr. Margaret Chan earlier this month during a speech at the agency’s World Health Assembly in Geneva.
"Our children are getting fatter," Chan went on to say, noting she has established a "high-level commission" on ending childhood obesity.
Chan's ominous warning applies not only globally, but also to Canada, in particular.
Ten per cent of Canadian youths under 21 years old are obese, according to the latest data. At the same time, nine per cent of girls under age 20 in Canada are obese. Approximately 20 per cent of Canadian adults are obese.
Even more Canadians are overweight.
Last week, another analysis of global health statistics made headlines after it appeared in the Lancet journal. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded this report. Apparently, one-third of the world's population -- two billion people -- is overweight or obese and no nation has successfully halted the problem.
It's clear that key players in community health -- including those here in Canada -- are worried about the problem, but what's the solution?
It's easy to preach the idea of eating less and exercising more, but the answer isn't so simple: it involves education and motivation.
Here are a few places to start:
- Use common sense when following the Food Guide. Canada's Food Guide -- the official manifesto hospitals and schools follow when creating meal programs -- needs to be revamped. It focuses too heavily on grain products and doesn't adequately differentiate between nutritious foods and junk foods within a food group. Considering it was revamped in 2007, Health Canada probably will not rewrite it anytime soon. In light of that, Canadians -- and the institutions that implement the Food Guide -- need to approach the document with common sense. For example, just because high-fat, highly processed Ritz crackers technically fall into the grain category doesn't mean they should be served at day cares.
- Tighten up food-labelling rules. The food industry gets away with too much. Consumers are duped with deceptive terms such as "low-fat" and "contains no added sugars." (Many of the foods with such labels are actually high in sugar.) Even the ingredient lists are misleading. For example, organic brown rice syrup is just a processed sugar disguised as something nutritious. So what if something is "cholesterol-free?" It can still contain lots of saturated fat. Health Canada needs to re-examine these labelling regulations and consumers need to brush up on their label-reading skills.
- Teach kids how to shop for nutritious foods on a budget. Too many adults are under the misguided impression that you have to be wealthy to eat well. If the bestselling book The Blue Zones is accurate, the people who live the longest around the world are typically the poorest. Schools should teach kids at an early age that nutritious eating can be cheap. They could implement grocery shopping assignments to do with their parents so parents and kids alike can learn that good eating doesn't have to cost much.
- Encourage low-tech play. Parents need to get kids outside and away from computers, tablets, gaming consoles and cellphones. During a recent visit to a southern California residential neighbourhood, I noticed that every day after school, the neighbourhood kids would gather on the street and play together (with parents supervising on the sidelines, of course). We need to see more of that in Canada.
- Reduce sugar intake. We're starting to realize sugar could play a bigger role than fat for widening waist sizes. Earlier this year, the WHO announced plans to recommend sugar make up only five per cent of our collective caloric intake. For an adult, that's about six teaspoons of sugar or one glass of juice. If this goal is achieved, weights would plummet.
- Know your measurements. Too many of us aren't facing the fact that we fall into the overweight/obese category. But rather than focusing on these terms, get to know your waist circumference, your waist-to-hip ratio, your body-fat percentage and your weight. Physicians should check these numbers during every physical. The doctor-patient team needs to work together to reach the ideal numbers.
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