The numbers are rolling in and they aren’t a pretty sight: 26
per cent of young Canadians between two and 17 years of age are overweight, a
figure, pardon the expression, that’s tripled over the past three years.
At the provincial level,
37 per cent
of B.C.’s adults are overweight and 18 per cent are obese. In the last 25
years, the number of overweight teenagers has doubled, and the number of obese
teens has tripled.
And all this in beautiful British
Columbia, home of the healthy and fit outdoorsy-types who used to feel more
than somewhat smug and chauvinistic as we chided our cousins south of the
border for growing larger and larger in the land of too much plenty. Now the
“plenty” has caught up with us.
So this spring the provincial
government started tackling our weighty problem, and other health challenges,
through ActNow BC. The ultimate goal: not just lead North America in healthy
living, but be the healthiest jurisdiction ever to host an Olympic and
Paralympic Winter Games.
To tackle a wide range of issues, from smoking to poor eating
habits, and give people a wide range of entry points that suit their
lifestyles, there are more than 80 programs already underway.
One of the latest was recently launched at B.C. Children’s
Hospital. Shapedown BC, aimed at the growing obesity problem amongst children
and teens, is a weight management program based on a model that has been used
in California for 20-plus years. It’s already helped about 100 families during
a pilot project at Children’s Hospital.
In the new program, close to half a million dollars will go
towards helping 200 families with youngsters who are obese.
“The criteria has been to select the
ones who are most obese and the ones who have not had success working with
their family physicians in their communities,” says Gordon Hogg, Minister of
State for ActNow BC.
“This is taking a whole different
approach and a much more holistic approach. Family physicians, to a greater or
lesser degree, already have skills in this area. But this is really bringing
together a specialist group that includes a social worker and counselling as
well as the medical side.”
The Shapedown team, which consists of physicians, nutritionists
and counselors, integrates primary care with specialist health care. These
professionals work with families of young people who are dealing with obesity,
targetting the underlying factors that often promote poor food choices and
Parents learn things like the importance of setting limits and
boundaries — why love can’t be translated into another piece of pie. And
the youngsters involved gain much more.
We learn through other people, so
addressing it as a systems approach is far more effective,” says Hogg. “It’s
much more comfortable for the child to have consistent messages and a
consistent support system, and feel that people are there not to vilify or
criticize them but to support them within the challenges that they face.”
Besides health implications, such as
higher risk for serious diseases like type II diabetes, obesity remains in the
shadows of discrimination.
One of the families Hogg met who had
been though the pilot program included two sisters who were both extremely overweight.
They described how they felt about that — how they wouldn’t go out of the
house, and how they suffered threats and taunting at school.
In a society that vaunts the “you
can’t be to too thin or too rich” paradigm, the fallout around being overweight
can overflow to the families as well.
“You feel guilty as a parent because your child is overweight
and can often face discrimination from peers,” says Ceri Bowles, whose family
took part in the pilot project.
To ensure that families across the
province have access to Shapedown BC, each health authority has been given
information on the program and been asked to develop a model that supports the
family physicians within their region.
Families in the Sea to Sky corridor,
which is part of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, can access the program
through a referral from their family doctor.
A victim of its own ambitions?
ActNow BC has earned the Canadian
Public Health Association’s first-ever national award given to a government for
a health promotion program, plus it’s being reviewed by the World Health
Organization as a potential model.
has laudable goals and has
been around since spring. So why are people in B.C. barely getting it?
Even the Minister responsible for the initiative admits that it might be a victim of its own ambitions. With more than 80 programs and another five to be launched in the next six months, it can be confusing.
People are hearing about things like the B.C. Healthy
Initiative, Action Schools! B.C., the School Fruits and Vegetable Program or
Active Communities program, but they’re not making the connection they’re all
part of ActNow BC.
More importantly, they may not be making the connection that
these are all steps toward making us measurably healthier, taking as much as
$3.4 billion out of future health care costs and, if you’re into bragging
rights, making B.C.
the healthiest jurisdiction to
host an Olympic/Paralympic Winter Games.
They haven’t all been coalesced
under a single vision under the umbrella of ActNow, so a lot of them come under
different names,” says Hogg. “Part of what we need to do in terms of branding
or raising awareness among the public is to ensure that we have a single vision
under which they all fall.”
To that end expect to see a lot more
advertising soon about ActNow. In the meantime, here’s the gist:
The initiative hopes to improve British Columbians’ health by
getting us to “act now” to address common risk factors and reduce chronic
disease. Research shows that inactivity, poor nutrition, overweight/obesity,
tobacco use and unhealthy choices in pregnancy are key factors contributing to
So ActNow BC’s goals by 2010 are to:
• Increase the percentage of the B.C. population that is
physically active by 20 per cent;
• Increase the percentage of B.C. adults who eat at least five
servings of fruits and vegetables daily by 20 per cent;
• Reduce the percentage of B.C. adults who are overweight/obese
by 20 per cent;
• Reduce tobacco use by 10 per cent;
• Increase the number of women who receive counselling about
the dangers of alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy by 50 per cent.
For more info, check out www.actnowbc.gov.bc.ca.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who is
re-shaping her lifestyle and other components.