Heart and Stroke Foundation report asks: Is the heart health of Ontario's kids making the grade?

    TORONTO, Sept. 9 /CNW/ - The 2009 Heart and Stroke Report on the Health
of Ontario's Kids, the first-ever survey of its kind in the province, shows
that our children are still facing an unhealthy childhood due to a lack of
physical activity and poor eating habits, even though statistics 10 years ago
brought these problems to light. And if the situation doesn't improve soon,
this generation of children - through no fault of their own - will experience
a shorter lifespan than their parents due to the risk of developing
life-threatening illnesses such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and
heart disease.
    "This Report should serve as a wake-up call that the health of our
children is not making the grade," said Dr. Marco Di Buono, Director of
Research, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario (HSFO). "Despite mandatory
nutrition labelling and a new edition of Canada's Food Guide, we're not seeing
bigger gains in healthy eating."
    The most disappointing finding is the number of children meeting the
daily recommendations for fruit and vegetables, which has dropped by more than
a third in just one decade. Ten years ago, one in five children was eating
five or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily, which just meets Canada's
Food Guide daily recommended minimum. But in 2009, the prevalence dropped to a
mere one in eight children (13%).

                                                         1998        2009
    Proportion of parents who report their child       National    Ontario
     6 to 12 years of age:                             Survey(*)  Survey(xx)
    Eats 5 or more servings of fruit & vegetables
     daily                                               20% (F)     13% (F)
    Eats whole grain bread and cereals                   33% (F)     49% (F)
    Eats junk food (potato or taco chips, French
     fries, candy, chocolate) no more than twice
     a week                                              76% (B)     76% (B)
    Is physically active 3+ times/per week during
     the winter                                          66% (C)     57% (D)
    (*)  1998 survey of a national sample of 424 parents of children aged 6
         to 12 years. Results are considered accurate within +/- 4.9%, 19
         times out of 20.
    (xx) 2009 survey of a sample of 1,189 Ontario parents of children aged 6
         to 12 years. Results are considered accurate within +/- 3.2%, 19
         times out of 20, with the exception of physical activity where the
         margin of error is +/- 5.0%, 19 times out of 20

    In 1998, when the Heart and Stroke Foundation surveyed a national sample
of parents of children aged 6 to 12 years, it found only one in five children
was eating the recommended five or more daily servings of fruit and vegetables
and only one in three was eating whole grain breads or cereals. Almost
one-quarter (24%) ate some form of junk food (chips, French fries, candy or
chocolate bars) three or more times a week. The good news appeared to be
related to physical activity patterns, with 88% of parents reporting that
their children were physically active during the summer. However, the same
parents reported that during winter, the proportion that was active would drop
dramatically, to only 66%.
    Jump forward 10 years and the findings aren't much different, which is
particularly worrisome given the rising tide of overweight and obesity among
children in Ontario. The encouraging news is that parents are reporting more
whole-grain consumption: almost half of Ontario's children appear to be eating
whole grains. But junk food consumption has remained consistent, with
three-quarters of children still consuming high-fat, high-sugar or high-salt
snack foods up to twice a week. One out of four (24%) parents reported their
children eat junk food three or more times a week.
    The proportion who are active during the summer has remained consistent
(89% in 2009 vs. 88% in 1998).There has also been a significant decline in the
proportion of Ontario's kids who are physically active three or more times a
week during winter (57% in 2009 compared to 66% 10 years ago).
    "Even the limited decrease in physical activity is distressing,
especially when you see that we still have one in four children eating junk
food three times or more a week," says Dr. Di Buono. "We clearly need to
reinforce the need for a balance of energy in to energy out throughout the

    The Hard Truth About Kids Weight

    Results from the Heart and Stroke Foundation's poll must be tempered by
the knowledge that parents tend to view their children's eating and physical
activity patterns through rose-coloured glasses. For example, in the
Foundation's 2009 poll, approximately 14% of parents reported their child is
"somewhat overweight" and 1% reported that their child is "very overweight,"
for a total of 15%. "However, we know that over the past 25 years, the rate of
overweight and obesity among Canadian children aged 2 to 17-years has grown
from 15% to 26%(1) and in Ontario the current rate of overweight and obesity
is even slightly higher at 28%."
    "This suggests that like many "self-report" findings, parents do not
accurately perceive their child's weight," says Dr. Sean Wharton, Heart and
Stroke Foundation medical advisor and obesity expert.
    Similarly, parents may be under estimating their children's junk food
consumption - and overestimating their children's level of physical activity.
For example, a 2008 study by Statistics Canada, comparing child and parent
reports on the child's leisure time activity, found when their reports of the
child's activities were compared, 33% of the children reported more computer
and video games usage than their parents, and 34% of children reported more
television viewing.(2) Children who spend more than two hours of screen time a
day (watching television, playing video games and using the computer) are
twice as likely to be obese than those who spend an hour or less in such
    "Childhood is a crucial time where habits are developed that, in many
cases, can last a lifetime," says Dr. Wharton. "It's a natural instinct to not
see the worst in anyone - especially in our children. We need parents to think
about the importance of actions that promote a healthy weight as a means of
prevention in the same way they look at washing your hands, brushing your
teeth and getting your vaccines."

    Is The Economic Crunch a Factor?

    According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, almost three-quarters (72%)
of families with children occasionally or almost always go without certain
foods because of cost. Half (48%) of all parents polled reported they at least
occasionally have to go without buying particular types of food because of
cost, with another 24% reporting this occurs almost every time they shop.
Rates ranged across the province, from a low of 52% in Southwestern Ontario to
a high of 79% in Northern Ontario.
    What are families going without? The top three food categories were meat
and poultry (reported by 32% of respondents), followed by fresh fruit and
vegetables (28%) and dairy products (21%). These findings - and the presence
of variation across the province -echo those found in the most recent Heart
and Stroke Report on the Affordability and Accessibility of Food released this
past February 2009.

                              London    Ottawa   Toronto   Sudbury  PROV AVG
    Chicken Legs (1 kg)         4.39      6.59      3.95      7.25      5.57
    Oranges (6)                 4.99      1.86      2.46      4.81      4.62
    Milk (4L)                   4.87      5.77      5.99      5.17      4.71
    Whole Grain Bread (1 loaf)  2.99      3.29      2.22      2.89      2.69
    Source: Heart and Stroke Foundation 2009 Annual Report on Canadians'

    "How is it possible to live a healthy life, if you don't have access or
can't afford basic, healthy food?" says Dr. Wharton.

    Proportion of parents who report their child                  Rest of
     6 to 12 years of age:                                GTA(*) Ontario(xx)
    Eating 5+ servings fruit & vegetables/day                 7%         16%
    Eating whole grains                                      46%         51%
    Eating junk food less than 3 times/week                  71%         80%
    Physically active during the winter                      50%         60%
    Parents report they never or rarely go without
     certain types of food when they shop                    31%         26%
    (*)  Based on responses from 452 parents; margin of error is
         approximately +/- 5%, 19 times out of 20 except for physical
         activity where n equals 135 and margin of error is +/- 9%, 19 times
         out of 20
    (xx) Based on responses from 734 parents; margin of error is
         approximately +/- 4%, 19 times out of 20 except for physical
         activity where n equals 240 and margin of error is +/- 6%, 19 times
         out of 20

    Compared to kids in the rest of Ontario, those in the GTA (Toronto and
surrounding area) appear to be less likely to eat five or more servings of
fruit and vegetables per day or to eat whole grains even though the GTA is
home to fruit and vegetables from around the world. Perhaps food prices are
part of the reason: almost 70% of parents' report they almost always or
occasionally have to go without certain types of food because of cost.
    Only half of the kids were reported to be physically active three or more
days a week during winter, compared to 60% for the rest of the province.
Although parents' reports of physical activity increased during summer - up to
84% - this was still lower than the provincial average of 89%. The combined
average for winter and summer was 67%. This suggests that up to one-third of
GTA children aged 6 to 12 are not getting sufficient physical activity for
optimal health.


    Ontarians beliefs around childhood obesity
    It is common for children in Ontario to be overweight
     and obese                                                           94%
    Childhood obesity is a societal health issue that citizens
     and organizations need to help solve.                               58%
    Childhood obesity is a personal health issue that individuals
     need to deal with on their own.                                     18%
    Only parents can be responsible for ensuring children have
     access to healthy foods and get sufficient physical activity.       19%
    2009 survey of a sample of 2004 Ontarians aged 18 and over. Results are
    considered accurate within +/- 2.2%, 19 times out of 20

    "There are studies everyday about the causes of childhood overweight and
obesity. But no one is speaking up on how to make change happen," says Dr.
Wharton. "This recent Foundation poll of Ontarians shows that people know this
is an issue and they cannot solve it on their own."


    In 2006, the HSFO identified childhood obesity as a critical issue for
the future heart health of Ontario. With 28% of Ontario's children overweight
and obese, a rate that has tripled over the past 25 years, today's children
are at risk of developing long-term health effects such as heart disease, high
blood pressure and type 2 diabetes at a much too early age - through no fault
of their own.
    As a result, the Foundation created a ground-breaking, province-wide
initiative called SPARK Together for Healthy Kids(TM) (STHK). The mandate of
this program is to advocate for children's improved access to physical
activity and healthy food and the need to work collaboratively with partners
from all sectors to create sustainable solutions.
    "When it comes to obesity, playing the 'blame game' - blaming children,
youth, parents, schools or other individuals - is not a helpful or productive
approach," says Dr. Di Buono. "The issue is very complex - far more than
simply individual bad choices. Childhood obesity is a societal problem and
will require a societal response."
    As part of the initiative, the Foundation created the Spark Community
Advocacy Fund which provides financial support to community groups advocating
for better, heart healthy opportunities for their children.
    To date, the HSFO has distributed more than $500,000 to grassroots
organizations across the province.
    Recognizing that cultural barriers make it difficult for some mainstream
health messages to reach children in diverse communities, the Faith Health
Initiative, in Toronto is enlisting church pastors and members to act as
advocates to increase awareness of the importance of physical activity among
children. With a $15,000 Heart and Stroke Foundation grant, the initial group
of eight churches has grown to 35. These churches now feel they are part of
the answer.
    In North York, the Vision Youth Leadership Program is helping students
speak out and be heard. An $18,300 grant provided an opportunity to equip 100
youth ages 14 - 25 with advocacy skills and facilitate their partnership with
school councils in their efforts to make healthy foods available for snacks
and lunches. These young advocates will build partnerships with school
councils, parents and teachers so they can collectively develop a school
policy on healthy eating.

    In Ontario, the Foundation has also taken a number of steps to address the
issue of childhood obesity in Ontario, including:

        -  Building partnerships with other organizations that are part of
           the solution. To date, 23 organizations from all sectors -
           government, private sector, not-for-profit and community groups
           support this initiative. This includes the financial support the
           Ministry of Health Promotion, sanofi-aventis and Canola Council of

        -  Producing a number of key reports highlighting the issue of
           childhood obesity including, Access to Healthy Food, Toward a
           Healthy Ontario and Recreating A Healthy Ontario

        -  Supporting Knowledge to Action workshops, created in partnership
           with Queen's University, which have been attended by more than 500
           participants across the province, including First Nations and
           Francophone communities.

    "It is our hope, that by 2010, more than 1000 community groups are
working under the SPARK Together for Health Kids umbrella, so we can see real,
positive change in the health behaviours of our children in Ontario," says Dr.
Di Buono.


    To continue to make progress to protect and promote the health of our
children and youth, Spark Together for Healthy Kids is committed to working
with stakeholders across all sectors.
    "In order for us to really effect change, we need to ensure we have
effective leadership, dedicated advocacy, sustainable funding and work towards
developing healthy public policies," says Dr. Wharton.

    Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario Recommendations:

    1.  Ensure access to adequate, nutritious, safe and culturally
        appropriate foods for all Ontarians that are affordable and

    2.  Foster action that supports and encourages active living and physical

    3.  Develop essential processes and frameworks at provincial and
        municipal levels for integrated planning and action.

    4.  Facilitate collaborative and synergistic action by individuals,
        community groups, not-for-profit agencies, media, private sector and

    The cornerstone of this campaign is the Spark Promise to our Children.
This is the Foundation's vision of a healthier tomorrow for Ontario's
children. The Foundation will be encouraging as many individuals and
organizations as possible to sign on to demonstrate a groundswell of
grassroots support and to build momentum.
    To learn more about the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Spark Together for
Healthy Kids program, and to read and sign the Promise to Our Children, log
onto www.heartandstroke.ca/spark.

    (1) Shields M. Measured Obesity. Overweight Canadian children and
        adolescents. Statistics Canada. Cat no. 82-620-MWE2005001
    (2) Sithole F, Veugelers PJ. Parent and child reports of children's
        activity. Statistics Canada, September 2008. Cat no. 82-003-X

    /NOTE TO PHOTO EDITORS: A photo accompanying this release is available at
http://photos.newswire.ca. Images are free to accredited members of the media/

For further information:

For further information: Sharon Edwards, (416) 937-5307, or
sedwards@hsf.on.ca; Elissa Freeman, (416) 565-5605, or efreeman@hsf.on.ca

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Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario

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