Children’s health report grim

Obesity, nutrition worsening | Rates of smoking are falling among Saskatchewan teens

SASKATOON — A recent study found that Saskatchewan youth are doing some things right for their health but a lot wrong.

Nazeem Muhajarine, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s college of medicine, said that on the positive side, young people’s smoking levels have dropped.

He told a Saskatchewan Youth Symposium Jan. 26 that only 12 percent of the province’s youth reported smoking in 2010-11, which is down from 25 percent in 1995.

“Through policies and changing social norms, we made smoking a very bad thing,” he said.

Reports of bullying and mental illness have also improved from past decades.

Young people also eat enough meat to meet the daily recommended level, but they don’t consume enough milk, whole grains and fruit and vegetables.

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Worst of all, only one in seven students reports doing 60 minutes of physical activity a day, which is the recommended level.

As a result, Muhajarine said 30 percent of all young people are overweight or obese, which is the largest number in human history.

He said this showed up across Saskatchewan and not just in a certain region.

“There’s a myth out there that the rural area is better than the city (for youth health). The information is not bearing that out.”

Muhajarine said humans are not built to sit down but rather to move around and expend energy, which is why he suggests schools return to mandatory physical activity classes.

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He also said schools and offices should use desks that allow people to stand for periods of time and that communities be built to encourage walking and cycling.

He said people of all ages must fight the sedentary lifestyle that they have adopted. Early societies walked around most of the time but in 2013 people are active for only two hours a day, Muhajarine added.

He said Saskatchewan has an unusual population profile: one of the highest rates of seniors as the baby boom generation ages and the second highest number of people younger than 15.

This has cost implications for government budgets but also represents an opportunity because these pressures on society create jobs.

“Society, health care and education systems bear the cost of poor health,” he said.

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“Healthy kids are better learners.”