The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit is hoping to receive $10-million for five years of programming from the province aimed at reducing the rate of childhood obesity in the region.
According to the Health Unit, roughly 75% of children who are obese become obese adults and the CEO of the Health Unit, Dr. Gary Kirk, explained that a recent study of seventh grade students in the area found that roughly 42% of students were either overweight or obese; higher than the provincial average.
“Childhood obesity correlates with adult obesity [and] obesity in childhood or adulthood leads to more dangerous diseases and conditions,” said Dr. Kirk who went on to list that those who are overweight or obese could also come to face type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and “a number of things that reduce quality of life and quantity of life and incur more cost on our healthcare system.”
The 12-page report submitted to the province allocates the majority of the funding to staff who will take on the role of both educating and working with other stakeholders to reduce childhood obesity.
“They’re using a lot of different ways from communications to public health nurses to statisticians and epidemiologists in this case,” said Dr. Kirk. There would also be a need for a project coordinator and Dr. Kirk stressed that the program intends to “work with outside stakeholders and make sure that we’re doing the right things that we can to reduce childhood obesity.”
The report was written in response to the Healthy Kids Panel report titled “No Time To Wait: The Healthy Kids Strategy”.
The Greater Essex County District School Board is “intimately familiar” with the issue of childhood obesity according to Scott Scantlebury the Public Relations Officer for the school board. He explained that the board follows Ministry of Education directives on daily physical activity which requires students to have at least 20 minutes of daily physical activity.
“That can be in any fashion at any time, some teachers incorporate dancing, some math classes do math-exercise balls, it’s incorporated in a variety of fashions more or less by teachers choice,” said Scantlebury. “There’s certain guidelines for delivery, but basically the bottom line is that students get 20 minutes of physical activity during the day.”
Scantlebury explained that the board recognizes that children who have higher fitness levels have a better capacity to learn.
“The fact is that kids after excising have more ability to retain information and they’re more interested and less lethargic,” said Scantlebury. “Obviously there are benefits for healthy lifestyles for students that relate directly to learning.”
Scantlebury pointed to the removal of both snack and pop machines from grade schools and strict guidelines on what can be sold in high school snack machines as initiatives from the Ministry of Education aimed at reducing childhood obesity.
According to Scantlebury, the school board is unable to quantify the rate of overweight students or children who suffer from childhood obesity in the board as they “certainly don’t classify students based on their physical attributes. There’s no way to quantify it at the school level.”
Scantlebury believes that parents play a key role in helping to reduce childhood obesity.
“Kids in school are learning about the food groups, healthy options and healthy choices [and parents should] encourage the kind of learning that’s going on in the schools at home and reinforce it,” said Scantlebury. “Just be vigilant about what kids eat and how much they eat and when they eat … parents do know best.”
Jonathon Liedtke is the Features & Opinion Editor for the University of Windsor Lance Campus/Community Newspaper and a reporter for ourWindsor.ca. As a founding member and current Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee, he is committed to representing, connecting, engaging with and advocating for local youth. He is also a member of Windsor’s “Punk with Horns” band The Nefidovs, and as such, is committed to enhancing and sustaining the arts community.