Canadian Health Ministers Consult Canadians on Tackling Childhood Obesity

Leona Aglukkaq, the Honourable Federal Minister of Health

Leona Aglukkaq, the Honourable Federal Minister of Health

Yesterday morning, as attendees at the 1st International School on Obesity Research and Management listened to presentations on public health interventions to curb obesity (Kim Raine), representation of health promotion in the media (Timothy Caulfield) and the use of social and commercial marketing to understand and shape food choices (Michael Basil), the Federal Health Minister (the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq) and her provincial colleagues from across Canada launched “Our Health Our Future: A National Dialogue on Healthy Weights“.

According to Aglukkaq, this national dialogue should help identify ways to promote and maintain healthy weights for children and youth.

Areas of discussion will include making our social and physical environments more supportive of physical activity and healthy eating, identifying and addressing obesity risks in children early, increasing access to nutritious foods and decreasing the marketing of foods and beverages high in fat, sugar and/or sodium to children.

The initiative also encourages individuals and organizations to commit to taking their own action to promote healthy weights.

The dialogue was kicked off yesterday with the launch of a website (, which invites Canadians to share their ideas on how to make the changes that will support healthy weights. Other activities will consist of a series of in-person consultations across the country and a National Summit in the Fall of this year.

This activity, is part of a larger Federal, Provincial and Territorial Framework for Action on Curbing Childhood Obesity, which was adopted by Canada’s Ministers of Health and/or Health Promotion/Healthy Living in September 2010 and endorsed by Ministers responsible for Sport, Physical Activity and Recreation in February 2011.

This framework certainly comes none to soon, as the number of overweight and obese kids in Canada continues to increase and organisations like the Canadian Obesity Network have long called for dialogue and action on this important issue.

Engaging Canadians to come up with solutions is also very much in line with the rationale for the Obesity Network’s Canadian Obesity Awareness and Control Initiative for Health (COACH), which will engage Canadian kids, youth and adults living with obesity to help them better understand and self-manage their condition.

So while I applaud the fact that the Canadian Governments are recognising the importance of addressing this problem, I have only a few suggestions and concerns that may merit discussion:

1) This dialogue cannot stop at discussing healthy eating and physical activity – while these are certainly important – they are not the “root causes” of the problem. Rather, unhealthy eating and sedentariness are “symptoms” of larger societal trends that may require a complete upheaval and change in how we run our lives – unfortunately, small changes will have small effects.

2) The Ministers and decision makers involved in this initiative will be well advised to ensure that their messages that link “healthy” weights to unhealthy lifestyles, do not perpetuate and reinforce the stereotype that obese kids (or their parents) are simply overindulgent and lazy – regular readers will recall my previous posts on the very real harm caused by such simplistic (and untrue) messages to those people who struggle with excess weight DESPITE eating healthy and being as active as they possibly can (or at least not really eating that much worse or being that much more inactive than their “healthy”-weight counterparts).

3) Finally, while launching this initiative around childhood obesity is an important and politically savvy beginning, my readers will also recall my posts that childhood obesity cannot be solved in isolation, i.e. without also addressing adult obesity. In fact, readers will likely recall, the substantial emerging data that treating obesity in adults reduces the weight of their kids, whereas the opposite remains doubtful.

It will be most interesting to see what Canadians have to say on this issue and which “ideas” get voted to the top on the Our Health – Our Future website. Whether or not these ideas are actually based on “evidence” (rather than “opinion” and stereotypes), can be reasonably implemented as policy, and will ultimately improve the health of Canadian kids certainly remains to be seen.

But let these words of “caution” not be seen as a damper – I fully recognise and applaud the significance of the announcement and know that the 6000 members of the Canadian Obesity Network and the many Canadians with excess weight that we will now engage in COACH are certainly delighted that this important issue is now clearly on the agenda of our Governments.

As always, I invite comments from my readers on this announcement.

Lake Louise, Alberta