Spare the fat, spoil the child - by Office for Public Health, Canadian Medical Association

    OTTAWA, Sept. 25 /CNW Telbec/ - Mother fights off cougar! shouts the
headline, or Dad pulls child from wreck! Grannies, babysitters and even
passersby do it too - few people hesitate to face danger when a child's life
is at risk.
    And yet many devoted parents, friends and neighbours are systematically
putting children's health and lives at grave risk day in and day out, by
letting them sit around too much and eat what they shouldn't.
    That hardly sounds life-threatening - more like a teenager's dream come
true - but the generation of overweight and obese children we are creating in
Canada are at risk of growing up to be a society of inactive adults struggling
with all kinds of health problems.
    "Parents should be throwing themselves on that slurpee or 50-ounce soft
drink to protect their child," says Dr. Tom Warshawski, a member of the
Canadian Pediatric Society's Healthy Active Living Committee. He's joking, but
he does think one of the main reasons so many children are heavier than a
generation ago is because of all the sugary drinks they consume, from pop to
supposedly healthy juices. Sometimes it's hundreds of extra calories a day,
but it doesn't make them less hungry; it's just extra fuel that has nothing to
do but turn into fat. And that's hurting kids.
    Since 1981, obesity (defined as being 20 per cent or more above ideal
weight for age and sex) has tripled among Canadian children, from 5 per cent
for both sexes to 16.6 per cent of boys and 14.6 per cent of girls. The number
of overweight children has increased from 15 per cent overall to 35.4 per cent
for boys and 29.2 per cent for girls.
    "There are tremendous health consequences," says Dr. Warshawski, now very
serious. "What you see in the short term are mental-health issues, poor
self-esteem. A child who is significantly obese is self-conscious and treated
differently by other children." A study in the U.S. found that obese children
were less happy with their lives than children undergoing chemotherapy for
cancer, Dr. Warshawski says.
    Self-esteem is important, but not deadly. The real threat to health
parents are failing to recognize is the long-term consequences of being
overweight or obese for decades. Being overweight or obese is a key factor in
health problems ranging from bad backs and arthritis caused by hauling around
too much weight, to some types of cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
    A generation ago, most people didn't gain weight until later in life, and
the illnesses it causes were seen as part of being old. But the younger
someone gets fat, the sooner its consequences will start to affect them.
There's a very real possibility that children and teens growing up fat today
will be seriously ill because of it as early as their 30 and 40s.
    "We are setting our children up for a life of ill-health," Dr. Warshawski
said "Of kids born in 2000, one in three will develop type 2 diabetes because
of their weight." Type 2 diabetes is not an easy life, or a quick death:
generally, as the condition worsens, veins shrink and organs wither away. It
can mean years of pain and disability, potentially ending in blindness,
amputations and kidney failure.
    And it doesn't have to happen. Parents, children, schools and society in
general could put the brakes on what some people call "the obesity epidemic."
    Physician-delegates attending the 140th annual meeting of the Canadian
Medical Association (CMA) in August set their sights on curbing the obesity
epidemic by recommending governments implement both mandatory 30-minute daily
exercise periods for all school-aged children and youth. Delegates also called
for creation of a user-friendly supplement to Canada's Food Guide that would
outline a comprehensive strategy for children and youth on how to reach and
maintain healthy weights.
    "Canadian parents want to help their kids live healthier lives, lives
that include healthy eating and exercise," said Dr. Brian Day, the CMA
president. "As a society, we need to do all we can to encourage that effort."
    Dr. Warshawski, who is also chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation,
says the place to start fighting childhood obesity is in the glass: don't let
children have drinks with sugar in them. Watch other junk food too.
    The next thing to do is reduce "monitor time" - that is, the time kids
spend in front of TV or computer monitors. They should be out and moving.
"Children are naturally active unless they are tethered to something that is
more interesting," says Dr. Warshawski, "and TV is very interesting." His
advice? Set a timer, and stick with it. Give the children an hour a day of
computer or TV time and then make sure to turn it off and turn them on to
playing...they will learn to use their bodies.
    "It doesn't have to be competitive hockey. Kids just like to move," he
says. Another piece of advice is to put the whole family on a healthier diet,
not just the plump child. It's always easier to prevent weight gain than to
lose weight, so don't have high-fat foods in the house and make sure fruit and
vegetables are always available.

    More information on strategies for helping an overweight child grow up
healthy and strong are available from the Childhood Obesity Foundation's
website at

For further information:

For further information: Lucie Boileau, Media Relations Manager,
1-800-663-7336, (613) 731-8610 ext. 1266

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