Before setting the table, parents should set an example for their children’s eating habits.
“I think parents need to role model more often and walk the talk,” said Julie Bunney, a dietitian with Saskatoon Health Region’s Live Well Chronic Disease Management program.
A recent report released by Statistics Canada said almost one-third of Canadian children are either overweight or obese.
A Canadian Health Measures Survey from 2009-11 showed that 31.5 percent of children, aged five to 17, or an estimated 1.6 million young people, are overweight.
Dr. David Lau, president of Obesity Canada, said there will be a price to pay if obesity continues to rise.
“It confirms (the report) the fact that obesity is not going away. Importantly, the problem is not only affecting schoolchildren, but also preschool children, which I think is quite alarming. We know this trend started a while back, but I think it’s still worrisome because it has huge implications in terms of the future health and indirectly the wealth of our nation,” he said.
The report said the prevalence of obesity was higher among boys, especially in the five to 11 age group.
“That is also more worrisome because boys tend not to be as concerned as girls with their body images. Therefore they’re more likely to track medical problems related to obesity earlier on,” he said.
As children’s weight increases, so do the incidences of diabetes and other related medical issues.
“We’re seeing the adult type of diabetes in kids. The youngest child in Canada with Type 2 diabetes is only six years of age. That’s something that was unheard of 10 years ago,” he said.
Lau said there’s a huge urban-rural gradient across Canada.
Farmers are able to grow more food for the world due to increased mechanization but their families’ waistlines have also grown.
“They’ve engineered the physical activity and the labour out of the farming world. They (farmers) eat the same pattern that their parents and grandparents did, but now they’re doing a quarter of the physical activity, or labour, so undoubtedly they’re much bigger,” said Lau.
Prevention and education are key because gaining weight is much easier than losing it. Farming is less physically demanding than it used to be so eating patterns need to reflect the level of energy being consumed.
“That’s something we need to teach the rural folks. You don’t need to eat as much as you used to because you’re not doing as much physical labour. That’s a huge message,” he said.
As a dietitian, Bunney said it boils down to lifestyle choices and balance. For a healthier lifestyle, she said it’s important for parents to model healthy activity and food choices for their children.
“We need to get out and we need to play with our children again as opposed to us sitting on the couch and telling them to go outside and play. We need to be active with them,” she said.
“I think children develop a pallet for healthy food very early on. So if it’s not introduced to them at an early age, then it’s going to be like pulling teeth if they’re 10 and that’s when you try to encourage them to eat their fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Bunney encouraged meal planning.
“A good rule of thumb to go with for meal preparation is half the plate to be full of vegetables because we’re not eating enough vegetable these days,” she said.
“Goal setting is what can often motivate people.… Take small steps and building on those. That goes for goal setting with activity and goal setting with eating habits.”