Advocates for good health Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod, who have for years urged Canadians to go out, get fit and have fun doing it, are bringing their message to southern NWT centres this month to create awareness about the need to deal with the epidemic of obesity in the North that often results in diabetes.
It is an important message.
Coincidentally, two studies have recently been released on the same subject cautioning that there is an obesity problem among both children and adults across Canada and especially in the North. The International Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) investigated 34 countries and found that obesity is a common issue, and Northern Canadians are particularly badly off. Additionally, a study by the University of British Columbia found that obesity rates across Canada are reaching alarming levels and continue to climb. The NWT and Nunavut have the highest rates in the country, it says.
This is a problem that will just not go away, and a greater effort is needed to deal with it. The Journal publishes numerous stories on the subject each year and took a look back. In early 2011 we reported the following: “Today’s Canadian youth are taller, fatter and weaker than they were 30 years ago.
“With junk food in nearly every home and a culture that promotes television, the internet and video games over physical activity, Canada is setting itself up for a future of extreme obesity, unhealthy adults and skyrocketing health care costs, says the lead researcher of a new study on children’s health in Canada published by Statistics Canada.”
In March 2011, we reported that a study on childhood obesity blames parents who either refuse to acknowledge their child’s weight problem or do nothing to help them lose weight.
One of the latest was in March 2013, when The Journal reported that the NWT Health department is considering insuring surgical procedures, such as stomach stapling, to assist obese people.
A Sept. 2012 Journal editorial (“You are what you eat”) noted that “Canadians are following the same path to obesity as our American cousins – as usual a little bit behind, but striving to do it even better.”
We pointed out the striking similarity of this malaise to smoking. Both lead to serious physical ailments, decreased lifespans, huge costs added to the beleaguered medicare system and reduced quality of life. Generally the individual addicted wants to be cured, but struggles.
We observed that in the Canadian North, Aboriginal communities suffer from exorbitant food prices as well as issues with a diet of processed, sugary and salty foods, resulting in a high incidence of chronic diabetes. We suggested a freight subsidy on all items listed in the Canada food guide, combined with a pervasive education campaign. Resulting reduced medical costs would more than pay for the freight subsidy. Foresight and a tenacious, dedicated, decades-long commitment are needed. As with the reduction of smoking, the results could be amazing.
We still think it is a good plan, but unfortunately little has been done since that time.
Obesity is a “modifiable risk”, second only to smoking as a contributor to ailments such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, gallstones, high blood pressure and some cancers. Obviously, the tools used to keep people from smoking can also help with other public health issues like diabetes and overeating. The government of the Northwest Territories has noted its success in decreasing the number of youth smokers by 19 per cent over a decade since implementing a tobacco strategy. Similar initiatives used to promote fitness and healthy eating could help people change their habits and live healthier, more active lifestyles to prevent both obesity and the onset of diabetes.
Popular education must also include a refocusing on traditional foods and lifestyles, like a program we covered in May 2013 that showcased researchers from the University of Ottawa helping schools in Fort Providence and Fort Resolution set up snack programs, cooking classes and nutrition workshops for youth and families centered around country foods.
There is no question that both obesity and diabetes can be substantially diminished by exercise and better diet – while lives are dramatically improved in the process. A concerted effort is needed to make that happen – by families, communities, First Nations and all levels of government. The advice of the Body Break gurus – to eat well, exercise, have fun doing it, and make sure your kids do it too – is important to us all. Only good things can come from it.