Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 26, 2021
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Obesity — it’s all in the family

Adolescent obesity in Canada has tripled in 25 years. According to the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey, 26 percent of youth aged 2 to 17 are obese or overweight. And we were all shocked — but not necessarily surprised — by the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s recent report on the health of Ontario youth; it confirmed the sad story we’re all seeing: children are not eating nutritiously nor exercising nearly enough.

As health professionals, it’s time to act, set examples and pressure our schools to play their role.

Eat as a family

• Studies show that children who eat with their parents and/or other siblings eat more of the basic food groups.1

• Adolescents who help prepare meals eat more fruits and veggies and less fat.2

Advocate for compulsory physical activity

• We know that an increase in physical activity is linked to increased brain function, concentration, self-esteem and better behaviour. Health Canada recommends that children and youth engage in at least 90 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Over half of Canadian children aged 5 to 17 aren’t active enough for optimal development.3

• Physical education (PE) should be offered daily. Currently, only 20 percent of Canadian students have PE every day, 41 percent twice weekly and 10 percent none at all.4 If PE can’t be added to your child’s program, suggest that it be part of an after-school program.

• A recent study found that taking time from academic classes and transferring them to PE didn’t result in a decrease in marks.5

• A simple way to increase a child’s fitness is to start a walking school-bus program, allowing children to walk and stay safe.

Fix school meals

• Ensure your kids always eat breakfast, either at home, through a breakfast program or a brown-bag breakfast you prepare.

• The American College of Sports Medicine recommends recess before lunch, rather than after.6

• Enough time for lunch is a must.

• Feed Me Better, a program introduced in UK schools by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, replaced unhealthy foods with more nutritious ones. After the campaign, children scored better on English and science tests and were absent less often.7

• Make home economics/life skills compulsory.

• In Iceland, Life Skills is a compulsory subject. When compared to British youth, Icelandic adolescents ate more fresh sandwiches, fruit and veggies and less junk food.8

• Many studies cite lack of cooking skills as a major barrier to healthy eating.

Make healthy eating fun

• When possible, encourage your kids to hang out in the kitchen while you’re cooking.

• Consider a cooking camp during school breaks.

• Don’t get rid of all traditionally high-fat foods — just make them healthier. The Acti-Fry by Tefal lets you to make delicious French fries with just a tablespoon (15 ml) of canola oil. And your kids’ burgers can be just as juicy with lean meat, fresh toppings and white bread made from whole-wheat fllesour.


  1. Stanek K. Diet quality and the eating environment of preschool children. J Am Diet Assoc. 1990; 90(11):1582-1583.
  2. Larson NI, Story M, Eisenberg ME, Neumark-Sztainer D. Food preparation and Purchasing roles among adolescents: associations with sociodemographic characteristics and diet quality. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006; 106(2):211-8.
  3. Public Health Agency of Canada. Physical Activity Statistics, 2002. Accessed from
  4. Time to Move. Canadian Association of Physical Health Education, Recreation and Dance & Canadian Council of University Physical Education and Kinesiology Administrators. [Internet] 2005 [cited 2009 Sept 17] Available from:
  5. Trudeau F, Shepard RJ. Physical education, school physical activity, school sports and academic performance. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2008;5(10)
  6. Nutrition, Physical Activity Boost School Performance: 4 Year Program Improves Test Scores, Discipline, Attendance. American College of Sports Medicine. 2006 [Internet] [cited 2009 Sept. 17] Available from: Display.cfm&ContentID=5373
  7. Berlot M, James J. Healthy School Meals and Educational Outcomes. Economic and Social Research Counsel. [Internet] 2009[cited 2009 Sept 17] Available from:
  8. Stitts S. An international perspective on food and cooking skills in education. British Food Journal 1996; 98(10):27-34.

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