A brief note today to let people know about a new report from the Ontario Panel on Healthy Kids, titled No Time To Wait: The Healthy Kids Strategy (Full disclosure: the CEO of the hospital where I am performing my PhD was a co-chair of the panel). The panel was created by the government of Ontario (Canada’s largest province) to address the issue of childhood obesity.
We’ve had a few similar panels in Canada over the years, without much (any?) action, so I think it’s fair to say that there was some skepticism about the panel when it was first announced last year. However, now that the report is out (available here), the initial reviews are quite positive. The report has already been discussed by Drs Yoni Freedhoff and Arya Sharma on their respective blogs, and Yoni is promising more to come in the future. But in brief, here is what they’ve had to say so far.
Overall the report’s solid. It makes 23 recommendations and as I was warned in an off the record chat with one of the panel members this past weekend, they might not be my top 23 items, but as I told the panel member, that’s not what matters. What matters is that they’re not all fluff, and more importantly what matters is that many of them have their sights set very squarely on the environment.
This is not your average Eat Less, Move More report. Instead this is a report that recognizes that the world in which we’re raising our kids pushes them into the open arms of food marketers, of piles of sugar, and of boatloads of calories. Kids aren’t trying to gain weight, their parents aren’t encouraging them to eat poorly – that’s just our new default – our new normal.
While the report makes all the expected recommendations (some based on good evidence, some more on opinion), the interesting nuances are in the report itself (not so much in the executive summary, which is why they may be easily lost in the discussion).
As an example, although the report is directly aimed at reducing childhood obesity, the report actually states that,
“Health is about more than weight. In fact, a child who is a little overweight and who is fit and active is healthier than a child who is the “right” weight for his or her age and height but is more sedentary. Focusing too much on weight is stigmatizing and will not address many of the factors that contribute to unhealthy weights.”
Hopefully this means that we will not see stigmatizing “anti-obesity” campaigns similar to the now notorious Atlanta shame and blame tactics.
Indeed, as one interviewed parent comments,
“…He [my overweight son] has lately been under a lot of pressure because of the focus of the media on overweight kids and this has been very hurtful to him, so people need to exercise caution when they are saying things to kids about their weight because it hurts.”
That “unhealthy” lifestyles are not simply limited to overweight and obese kids and the real reasons (the “Whys) that contribute to these lifestyles are not simply a matter of “choice” is also addressed in the details of the report.
Anyone who knows Yoni knows that he doesn’t hold back when he thinks a report is misguided, so the fact that he is generally positive about the report says a lot. I would tend to agree with Yoni and Arya – the report may not be perfect (they stay out of the sugar tax debate, for example, and don’t talk much about screen time), but at first blush it seems like a pretty reasonable framework for promoting healthy children, regardless of body weight.
The real question now is whether this will result in any action from the Ontario government, especially in the face of likely opposition from Big Food (one of the key recommendations is that the government “Ban the marketing of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, beverages and snacks to children under age 12”), and at a time when the government is already trying desperately to reign in spending (the report asks the government to commit $80 million/year to implement the recommendations). The Panel seems to have done their job, now we’ll see whether it will result in any action.