Inactivity and poor diets are killing us. This is especially true for our children. For the first time in human history, our youngest generation will have a shorter lifespan than their parents.
Salty, fatty foods consumed in excessive quantities and a sedentary lifestyle are causing children and adults alike to pack on weight and be much weaker than people of previous generations. The evidence is stark. Recent studies comparing the fitness of Canadians in 1981 to those of today have revealed frightening information.
Within a generation, the percentage of young adults with a waist circumference that placed them at high risk of health problems has more than quadrupled. The percentage of youth with fitness levels needing improvement increased almost fourfold among males and a staggering sevenfold among females. This is particularly disturbing because, once you are overweight, further weight gain is likely and very few ever return to their normal weight range.
Young adults with poor fitness are at significant risk of cardiovascular problems, and early death or disability. As well, between 1981 and today, the percentage of Canadians aged 40 to 69 whose weight level put them at high risk of health problems has more than doubled.
These statistics paint a deeply disturbing picture. The combination of poor fitness levels in the young and an aging population will drive health care costs through the roof in the coming years.
Today, children spend, on average, six hours per day watching a screen (television, computer, and video games). Only 12 per cent of school-age children engage in the recommended 90 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. This must change. Parents should restrict the time their children sit in front of a screen and encourage them to go out and engage in free play.
In the last 30 years, our society has become overly protective, out of fear that our children will get hurt. However, children who are not participating in sports and random play are being hurt physically and psychologically
through their inactivity.
Also, too much time in front of a screen may harm the hard wiring that takes place within a child’s brain. During the early years, the brain’s development is negatively affected by deprivation, poor nutrition, abuse, and possibly to excessive time spent playing computer games and watching TV. The onus on changing this behaviour falls on the parents, who should lead by example.
Studies show that active parents produce active children. Inactive parents produce inactive children. Physical activity is also very effective in improving mood (it reduces the incidence of depression) and enables children to focus in school. Children who participate in vigorous, daily physical activity enjoy better grades, are happier, and show fewer behavioural problems than their peers.
Good health begins with the hard physical activity inherent to outside play, which helps both children and adults to develop the strength and flexibility they need to lead robust physical lives. This, after all, is what we were designed to do as animals. Getting up and active and eating better is a societal change that is long overdue.
Dr. Keith Martin is the MP for Esquimalt – Juan de Fuca