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Canadian experts urge efforts to curb rising childhood obesity

By Al Campbell (Xinhua)

09:52, May 06, 2013

VANCOUVER, May 4 (Xinhua) -- Canadian experts attending a meeting on obesity here have called for efforts to stop the growing epidemic which now involves a quarter of the country's children.

During the four-day Canadian Obesity Summit, which gathered nearly 1,000 researchers and health professionals, experts said the numbers released by the Canadian Health Measures Survey earlier this year provided a strong indication that fitness levels of the country's youth were in serious decline.

The national survey, conducted during 2007-2009, showed that 17 percent of Canadian children aged 2-17 were overweight, while 9 percent were obese, similar to their U.S. counterparts.

Teenage boys aged 15-19 were the biggest concern as 31 percent were classified either overweight or obese, up 14 percent from that in 1981.

Jillian Avis, a researcher at the University of Alberta department of pediatrics, noted that obesity has risen approximately three-fold among Canadian youth over the past 15 years, increasing their risk for metabolic and cardiovascular diseases in adulthood.

With such a dramatic increase, Avis and her colleagues at the Edmonton-based Pediatric Center for Weight and Health offer a "family-centered and unstructured intervention on weight management" in obese children.

Centered around a team made up of exercise specialists, psychologists, dieticians, pediatricians, endocrinologists and nurses, they work together to help families start healthy routines, both in diet and exercise, which will hopefully stay with a child throughout their life.

Despite their efforts, 73 percent of the families who participate in the program drop out by 11 months after struggling to change their dietary habits, Avis noted.

"They (children) want to lose weight so they fit in better with their peers so they can run like their friends, so that they can make more friends, and if they are not losing this weight, in their eyes they have failed," Avis said. "But in reality so many things may have improved, among them psycho-socio elements such as metabolic issues."

Gillian Mandich, a childhood obesity expert at the University of Western Ontario, said healthy skills needed to be implanted into children at a young age to grow those behaviors into adulthood.

She suggested getting children into the kitchen early so they can see where the food they are eating is coming from. They should be allowed to do basic tasks at a young age, such as washing vegetables.

Mandich said anyone who has an influence over a child needs to be "on the same page to teach them healthy skills and to get out and be active and moving and eating right."

"It's just about learning and educating people and teaching them why (to eat healthy). So if the grandparents are feeding a child something unhealthy the parents can explain why that's not a good idea," said Mandich.

Cassandra Lowe, a master student at the University of Waterloo who will begin studying for her PhD in the fall semester, cited a changing lifestyle as the main reason for the current obesity pandemic.

She suggested that municipalities move fast-food restaurants away from schools or prevent them from setting up nearby to reduce what she calls "environmental cues on snack-food consumption."

"(Cafeterias in) Schools need to be more responsible too. They tend to serve what's cheap and easy, while we need to start thinking what's healthy for the children," Lowe said.

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