Chewing the Fat on our Kids’ Health

By Jason Menard

Does it really come as any surprise that Canada received a D for its overall commitment to our children’s health, when our kids have us setting an example?

On Thursday, May 26, 2005, the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth was released to the public and the results certainly give us something to chew on – unfortunately, it appears that we’re chewing on fat.

Essentially the report states that Canada is failing its kids by not ensuring that they’re active enough each day to ensure optimal growth and development. The report continues by saying that “less than half our kids are expending the energy required to maintain a healthy weight, and to develop healthy hearts, lungs, muscles, and bones.

But should we really expect anything less? We’ve gone from a society that had to chase down our own food and kill it with our bare hands to survive to one where we can sit in our boxers at a computer screen, click a mouse, and have our groceries delivered to us.

And it’s a good thing that we only need one hand to use a mouse, because the other’s usually immersed in a bag of Doritos.

Physical activity, which was once a given component of daily life, is now nothing more than an afterthought for the majority of people. Instead of being an expected part of our day, exercise is treated as a luxury for which we don’t have enough time. Most of us – and speaking as a parent, I am more than guilty of this – find that by the time we’ve come home from work, prepared dinner, and done our evening chores, there’s precious little time to enjoy with the family. So because it’s difficult to shoehorn physical activity into our evenings, we make excuses to avoid it.

The end result is that, because of this, we have to shoehorn our own butts into our jeans. The long-term effects can be catastrophic, with poorer long-term health, increased diabetes, and a whole host of other health-related problems all of which can be attributed to our added girth. It’s a good thing

We’ve undervalued the importance of physical activity at school. We look down our noses at physical education classes – and really, is there any profession more maligned in our popular culture than the gym teacher? Instead of realizing the value of daily exercise, we look at gym class like a glorified recess. We talk about the three Rs and lament how our kids aren’t getting a solid foundation in the basics, but there seems to be no recognition that a fourth R should be added to the list – running!

However, the problem does not lie within the confines of our schools. It’s time we look squarely in the mirror for the real source of the problem – the parents. The Report Card gives parents a D for Family Physical Activity, professing that only 43% of parents are physically active with their kids. The saddest thing is that the number drops off as our kids get older: a reduction of 25% by the time our children turn five, and a further drop-off of 30% when they become teenagers. It appears that we, as parents, abdicate our responsibility believing that the school system will pick up the slack.

The end result of all of this? The prevalence of childhood obesity in our kids has jumped from 2% in 1981 to 10% in 2001 – and is there any reason to believe the trend hasn’t and won’t continue?

A 1998 Gallup Poll showed that 78% off Canadians were in favour of instituting 30 minutes of daily physical activity in schools, but that’s not enough. Our kids are not somebody else’s responsibility, but when it comes to ensuring the health of our children, a tragically large number of us take a hands-off approach to their physical development.

Unfortunately, the school system is going to have to be the one that picks up the ball we’ve dropped – after all, the exertion may be too much for us. Parents aren’t going to change their ways no matter how many publicity campaigns or surveys come out. It’s easy to sit here and say we should all spend a half-hour riding a bike, going for a walk, or tossing around the ol’ pigskin with our sons and daughters – but we have to deal with reality here.

This isn’t a matter of who should shoulder the responsibility – it’s about who will. Our school systems – both elementary and secondary – are in the best position to quickly and effectively institute mandatory physical education periods. Just a half hour a day will give our kids a good foundation. There’s really no reason why gym should be an elective course in high school – if we put a premium on developing the mind, we need to do the same for the body.

Looking long-term, by making exercise a regular part of our kids’ lives, they’ll be more likely to continue to make it a part of their everyday routine. Ideally, spending a half-hour or more working out, walking, or just being active won’t be an imposition but rather an afterthought in their lives.

And then maybe they can turn around and show us the right way of doing things. For the good of our health, our kids will have to be the ones teaching their parents – because we’ve shown that, when it comes to healthy living, we’re no role models.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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