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We get what we deserve


That Canadian kids get a D-minus for being physically active is hardly news. Really, it’s just a “minus” drop from 2012, when they got a straight D.

When Canadian kids dropped half a point in international math scores (still among the highest in the world), governments, school boards and pundits held a mass fire drill. We all but declared a national state of emergency and developed a whole new kind of math to cure the “crisis.”

But when we find out our children are at historic high risk for major killers due to their sedentary lifestyles, Canadian parents just switch to the Cartoon Network.

An additional $4 billion or so hit to our health-care in direct and indirect costs of being sedentary? Get in the car, kids, let’s see something in 3-D.

Active Healthy Kids Canada has been releasing the reports for years, tracking the activity levels of Canadian children and comparing it to that of 14 other countries.

Really, nobody’s doing really all that great on the scores. Nobody wants to move to Mozambique, where kids are active. And besides, we can always sit back and laugh at Scotland, which got an F.

Alberta cities score higher than the national average for obesity — and that includes Red Deer.

But the message is getting through. This year, the group released Canada’s test results at the first-ever global summit on youth health and activity, in Toronto.

Somebody, somewhere, is paying attention. Somebody, somewhere, is starting to get scared.

Even though three-quarters of Canadian children are reported to take part in organized sports, and almost all have good access to gyms, pools, rinks and parks, only about seven per cent get their medically-recommended 60 minutes a day of physical activity.

It’s not because our kids are too busy. A huge portion of Canadian children get more than two hours of TV time a day. If you count cellphone, school and screen time, Canadian kids average just under eight hours a day looking at a screen, says Active Healthy Kids Canada. Every day.

The Canadian Paediatric Society strapped accelerometers onto children between 2007 and 2009, and got much the same results. They reported that kids sit on their butts for 6.8 hours a day.

Kids who spend more than two hours a day in front of the TV are more than twice as likely to be obese as kids who get an hour or so of TV time a day.

We like to blame TV for the rising sedentary habits of our children but actually we are to blame. In last year’s report (in which Canada got a D-plus), Active Healthy Kids Canada singled out Mom and Dad.

When Mom and Dad were kids, almost 60 per cent of children walked or biked to school. Today, 62 per cent of children use inactive forms of transportation exclusively, says Active Healthy Kids Canada.

It’s not that kids say they want it that way. In the 2012 Active Healthy Kids Canada survey, 92 per cent of children said they would rather play with friends than watch TV. But in reality, they spent 63 per cent of their time after school and on weekends just sitting around.

The World Health Organization reports that in industrialized countries, between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of adults do not get an hour of physical activity every day. What’s your average?

Hardly surprising, then, that Type 2 diabetes — a major complication of obesity — is on the rise. A major complication of Type 2 diabetes is kidney failure.

Young people in North America are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in numbers never before seen.

Here in Red Deer, we called it a victory when we got funding for more dialysis machines. Well, when your house is on fire, you’ve got to call the fire department — and they had better be there for you, quick.

But it would be far better that you prevent the fire.

Obesity in youth is known to lead to obesity in adulthood. Obese adults die three to seven years younger than their peers, and their lifetimes are marked by higher use of costly health care.

Simple activity is the cheapest and most effective prevention of all of that. Sixty minutes a day, every day, that’s what it takes.

Kids who walk or bike to school get on average 45 minutes a day, just by doing that. So would their parents if they rode or walked to work.

But instead of embracing prevention, Red Deer puts up barriers to it, calling it a waste of money to build the infrastructure needed to make safe non-car commutes.

Less than $1 million on new infrastructure, versus crisis spending of billions for easily preventable health-care costs.

That’s a D-minus score on a lot of levels.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

 
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