That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) continue its dialogue with the provinces, territories, health stakeholders, industry and Canadians to promote and maintain healthy weight for children and youth; (b) encourage discussions to address the factors that lead to obesity, such as social and physical environments, physical activity, as well as the promotion of and access to nutritious food; (c) encourage individuals and organizations to commit to participating in the promotion of a healthy weight; and (d) consider the federal, provincial and territorial framework for action to promote healthy weight entitled “Curbing Childhood Obesity”, that resulted from the endorsement of the “Declaration on Prevention and Promotion” by the federal, provincial and territorial Ministers of Health and Health promotion/Healthy Living, as the basis for action to address obesity, particularly in children, promoting physical activity and making healthy food choices.
Madam Speaker, first I will thank my seatmate and friend, the dedicated member for Okanagan—Shuswap, for being the seconder of this motion on a topic that is dear to me and to the good and wise people I represent in this place.
I am very pleased to address this House and all Canadians on this day, my 2,301st day as the servant of Ottawa–Orléans, in order to raise an issue of paramount importance to the future of our fine country: child nutrition.
“Youth is the smile of the future in the presence of an unknown quantity, which is itself”, wrote legendary poet and playwright Victor Hugo in his masterpiece, Les Misérables.
In his famous poem, Rabbi Ben Ezra, the English poet and playwright, Robert Browning, wrote:
Therefore I summon age
To grant youth's heritage,
In the past few decades, we have witnessed the rise of a worrisome phenomenon: more and more children and young people with a weight problem.
In 1953, when Madame Jeannette Dupuis-Desjarlais was my grade 1 teacher, very few of my classmates were chubby. That is no longer the case.
Twenty-five years later, when I served on the Ottawa-Carleton health council, the trend we are seeing today was already apparent.
I believe it is important for us to pay special attention to this problem, which affects all of us, and for us to begin discussion among parliamentarians. It deserves a national discussion.
This is why I am pleased to speak today to my private member's motion, Motion No. 319. It addresses the promotion and maintenance of healthy weights for children and youth. It encourages the federal government to continue to work in areas that are aligned with current priorities and activities following from curbing child obesity, a federal, provincial and territorial framework for action to promote healthy weights. I do not know why they have long titles like that.
Canada is facing an obesity epidemic, mainly in children and young adults. The rate of obesity in children and young persons has almost tripled in the past 25 years.
More than one in four children and young persons in Canada are overweight or obese: one in four.
These rates are even higher in aboriginal communities.
The Public Health Agency of Canada warns that childhood obesity increases the risk of obesity later in life, as well as the early onset of a number of illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure and all kinds of others that we cannot even pronounce.
The repercussions of what can be called the obesity epidemic threaten both the health and the economy of our country and because, as I have just shown, the weight problem among young people has worsened in the past decades, Canada's future could suffer.
Links have been established between obesity and the incidence of asthma, gall bladder disorders, osteoarthritis, chronic back pain, cardiovascular illnesses and certain types of cancer, including colon, kidney, breast, endometrial, ovarian and pancreatic cancer.
We have to invest in the future of our children. It is critical that we ensure that everyone understands the importance of promoting and maintaining a healthy weight in the early years.
In the May 8, 2012 edition of the Journal de Montréal, journalist Héloïse Archambault wrote about how young persons, particularly young women, attempt to lose weight. In her article on teenagers who want to be thin, she quotes Jacinthe Côté, a psychology professor at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi and the author of a study on how young persons try to lose weight.
Her alarming observations are a concern. According to the study, while three out of four young women between the ages of four and eighteen are unhappy with their figure, what they do in an attempt to become thin is frightening.
The most popular weight-loss method include, for nearly 45% of young women, skipping meals. More than one in five young women decide not to eat all day. Dieting, starting to smoke or going back to smoking, taking appetite suppressants or laxatives and vomiting after meals are also among the attempted solutions.
By taking such drastic measures, these young women are jeopardizing part of their future. Is that the sort of approach we want our young people to take in order to lose weight?
The situation is an economic burden on Canada and if nothing is done, it will become increasingly problematic.
The direct health care costs of overweight and obesity have been estimated at $6 billion a year and the indirect costs are roughly an additional $1.1 billion per year in Canada. I am sure that the various levels of government have other uses for what is, on its face, taxpayer money.
Canada is not alone in this situation. Many developed countries are facing similar obesity trends. This is one of the reasons we are seeing renewed momentum to address chronic diseases, including risk factors such as overweight and obesity, on a global scale.
Last September, for example, Canada participated in a United Nations meeting on chronic diseases. At that meeting there was clear recognition that obesity is a global health problem, and countries agreed to make it a priority. While it is not the role of government to force people to adopt particular lifestyles, the government must endeavour to raise Canadians’ awareness of this situation and must become involved in the search for solutions.
In this search for solutions, the government is already moving forward.
Families that register their children in physical activity programs are entitled to a $500 income tax credit each year. The government also funds Participaction, an agency that helps Canadians adopt healthy lifestyles through physical activity and sport. One year ago today, this highly beneficial agency honoured two young constituents from Ottawa—Orléans.
Alexis and Loïc Gagnon-Clément, two brothers studying at Garneau high school and St. Joseph elementary school respectively in Orléans, were the winners of the Dare2Move Your Own Generation Teen Challenge.
In this contest, ParticipACTION invited young people across Canada to produce a short video to educate young Canadians about the inactivity crisis. In the winning video, Loïc plays the role of an obese tweenie, using humour to illustrate times when physical inactivity is a drag.
After the scenarios, the two students present scary statistics about the health of Canadian young persons.
This is exactly the kind of program the government should be encouraging.
My motion is meant to encourage this dialogue among all the sectors, particularly health care, the economy, the environment and education. It also encourages individuals, families, industry, NGOs and governments across the country to take action and to raise awareness.
First, this motion encourages the federal government to continue its dialogue with the provinces, territories, health stakeholders, the industry and Canadians to promote and maintain healthy weights among children and youth.
This motion also calls on the federal government to encourage discussions that address the factors leading to obesity.
For example, we must expand the dialogue to include key areas for action in order to promote strategies for building social and physical environments that encourage physical activity and promote healthy eating and access to nutritious foods.
My motion calls on the federal government to encourage individuals and organizations to commit to participating in the promotion of healthy weights.
We know that engagement and collaboration are fundamental aspects of mobilizing action.
This brings me to the final element of my motion.
The fourth part of this motion urges the federal government to use this framework as the basis for action plans to address obesity, particularly in children, and to promote active living and healthy food choices. This will ensure that governments continue to work together in three specific areas: first, to promote healthy eating and active lifestyles; second, to create favourable environments; and third, to promote multi-sector partnerships.
Canada is sending a clear message to the rest of the world that everyone has a part to play in healthy weights.
Members may know that in January 2010, I started a gym fitness and nutrition program. My goal is to be in good shape for the years to come.
Getting started at my age is not easy. I still have a lot to learn about healthy eating. Habits are hard to break, especially for people in their sixties.
In rising in the House to speak to members today, I earnestly hope that the Canada of the future, which this motion addresses, will have the means to make wiser choices than I did. While it is true that it is never too late to change one's habits, efforts are a lot easier to muster with the energy of youth.
In walking the walk—not just talking the talk—I am going to take Canada’s Food Guide in hand as my pilgrim’s staff and visit schools in the constituency of Ottawa–Orléans that I serve, to take part in the promotion and discussion projects described in the motion I have moved in this House.
Over the next few weeks, all the schools in the constituency of Ottawa—Orléans, from St. Peter High School to Gisèle-Lalonde, by way of Cairine Wilson, will be invited to take part in this activity that I propose. I invite all hon. members, regardless of political stripe, to do the same.
Obesity is a complex phenomenon, and addressing its causes is a long-term goal that will require not only changes in individual behaviour, but also innovative action by governments, industry, non-governmental organizations and other partners.
We each have a role to play.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the employees of Health Canada for their support in this project.
I would also like to thank my staff for their support: Lynne Bernard, Andrej Sakic, Gina Vilsaint, Amanda Weir, Colette Yelle and my executive assistant, Brian Michaud.
I hope all members of the House will support my motion and take part in these discussions and awareness projects to further the important cause of child nutrition.
Young people are our future. Let us not allow this dark cloud to loom over them.
I thank you, Madam Speaker, for your kind attention and assure you that I shall take questions from my colleagues with the same respect.