Childhood obesity is on the rise as 1 in 4 children in Canada is overweight and 1 in 13 is obese. Despite these alarming numbers, a U of A researcher shared some encouraging results from a school program that is showing improvements in children's diets and physical activity levels.
Paul Veugelers, professor in the School of Public Health and internationally renowned expert in the study of nutrition and physical activity among children, recently gave a lecture entitled Canada's Childhood Obesity Epidemic: Where Do We Go From Here? The event was held at the U of A Calgary Centre.
The lecture centred on Veugelers' work with APPLE (Alberta Project Promoting active Living and healthy Eating) Schools and how comprehensive school health programs such as this can result in positive health outcomes and behaviours.
"Eighty per cent of obese children become obese adults, 1 in 3 children will develop type 2 diabetes, and today's generation of children will not get as old as their parents," said Veugelers. "To reverse this trend, children need to eat healthy food and be more physically active. One of the ways this can be done is by changing a child's environment so that making the healthy choice becomes the easy choice."
Sharing results on previous work conducted in Nova Scotia, Veugelers said that comprehensive program components such as healthy lunches, a no junk food policy, parental engagement and daily physical activities resulted in better diets, increased physical activity and marked reductions in the number of overweight (59 per cent less) and obese (72 per cent less) children. APPLE Schools are piloting similar components.
|Audience members take part in an APPLE Schools student exercise |
Veugelers was joined by Marg Schwartz, manager of the APPLE Schools program, and two program facilitators for the lecture. The facilitators worked the capacity crowd of 120 alumni, as well as those in the health and education communities, through interactive exercises done to stimulate the mind-body connection.
To sustain the work being done in pilot schools, Schwartz pointed out that school programs should be complemented by efforts in the home and the community. However, a solid foundation for health can be established by beginning with children early and promoting health in an environment where they spend considerable time—at school.
"Our data show that 94 per cent of parents surveyed want to limit the availability of unhealthy foods in schools while 68.5 per cent of children surveyed care about being healthy," said Schwartz. "These wishes are complementary and if a commitment is made to maintaining the healthy habits practiced in the schools, positive results can be achieved." For more information on APPLE Schools, please refer to the link at the bottom of this page.
This lecture was the fourth in the Calgary Centre Speaker Series. The next talk features Professor David Percy, holder of the Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG) Chair in Energy Law & Policy. Professor Percy's lecture is entitled "Water Allocation in Alberta: Issues, Challenges, Solutions."