Madam Speaker, it is my sincere pleasure to stand today in support of Motion No. 319. The motion by the member for Ottawa—Orléans focuses on the promotion and maintenance of healthy weights for youth and children.
This issue is very important to me and all Canadians. I know that society as a whole benefits from children and youth maintaining healthy weights and practising healthy behaviours. The World Health Organization declared in 2011 that obesity was a global epidemic that facing us now.
More than one quarter of Canadian children are overweight or obese, with rates even higher among aboriginal people. Of even greater concern, these rates are increasing.
We also know that in addition to significant personal and human costs, obesity is an important driver of health care costs, accounting for over $7 billion in direct and indirect costs.
Last fall the United Nations high level meeting on non-communicable diseases highlighted that obesity was a global health problem, and many countries had put a high priority on tackling this issue. The Minister of Health attended this important meeting, showing Canada's commitment to work with others in finding solutions.
Reversing the trend in childhood obesity is very important. Childhood obesity not only causes a number of health issues in childhood, but can also lead to long-term health problems later in life. Addressing the cause of obesity requires a society-wide shift to change the social and physical environment that influences the eating habits and activity levels of children and families.
Obesity is a complex issue and all Canadians have a role to play in monitoring and maintaining healthy weights for children and youth. We did not get here overnight and there is no quick fix. To achieve change, we will have to work together. This includes involvement at all levels of government, communities, researchers and the non-profit and private sectors. This government is facilitating, convening and actively contributing to the partnerships focused on making an impact on childhood obesity.
The motion highlights the need to continue to work on childhood obesity in this manner, and by engaging and coordinating with other colleagues. We are working with our provincial, territorial and international colleagues on childhood obesity. The motion asks that we continue the dialogue with provinces, territories, health stakeholders, industry and all Canadians to promote and maintain healthy weights for children and youth. Together with the provinces and territories, we have agreed upon a direction that we need to take to work on addressing obesity.
This shared vision to guide efforts to promote healthy living across Canada is elaborated upon in the September 2010 federal, provincial and territorial declaration on prevention and health promotion. Through this declaration, governments have agreed to work together and with other sectors to make the promotion of health and the prevention of disease, disability and injury a priority for action.
As a first step, governments endorsed “Curbing Childhood Obesity: A Federal, Provincial and Territorial Framework for Action to Promote Healthy Weights”, which makes childhood overweight and obesity the collective priority for action. Through these initiatives we are working to identify joint and complementary actions.
In March 2011, we launched “Our Health Our Future”, a national dialogue. This dialogue provided federal, provincial and territorial governments with input from Canadian stakeholders, including individual citizens, communities and industry.
The dialogue gave Canadians across the country the chance to connect with each other and to share their ideas about how to promote healthy weights for children and youth. Building on this dialogue, last month, the Minister of Health co-hosted a summit on healthy weights. The summit brought together a diverse group of people who showed great leadership in working together toward a common goal, reducing childhood obesity.
The summit, like this motion, is an important step in highlighting the conditions that will help children, youth and their families achieve healthy weights.
We are working hard to bring many sectors to the table because we know that governments alone cannot solve this problem. Each sector brings a unique viewpoint, strength and focus to the discussion of childhood obesity.
I would like to take this opportunity to tell the House about some of the groups we are already working with on this issue, including some of Canada's leading non-governmental organizations. These groups include the Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada, Physical Health and Education Canada, Participaction and the Canadian Obesity Network. These organizations, along with others, are catalysts for addressing obesity.
We also acknowledge the great potential for private industry to make an impact on childhood obesity. Discussions with groups like Food and Consumer Products of Canada and the Retail Council of Canada are helping us understand the possible actions we can take together.
Other organizations are also making key contributions to the broader dialogue on food policy, which will ultimately have an impact on child obesity. This includes groups like the Conference Board of Canada and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute. Both of these groups are providing important insight into future direction and outlining ways to approach issues linked to childhood obesity.
We are also working with Canada's research community. Through the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the government is funding research on obesity.
From 2010 to 2011, the institutes funded $34 million in obesity-related research. These funds help place obesity on the national health research agenda, generating new knowledge that will help us assess and identify the most effective mechanisms to address obesity in Canada and to improve the health of Canadians.
Working in a collaborative fashion to address childhood obesity helps us capitalize on each other's strengths for the greatest possible effect.
The motion calls for actions related to the promotion of access to healthy foods, support for making healthy food choices and physical activity. In concert with key partners, we are promoting accessibility and availability of nutritious food.
For Canadians living in isolated northern communities, Nutrition North Canada is helping make nutritious perishable foods more accessible.
Another initiative, the Canada prenatal nutrition program, is helping communities provide support to prenatal and postpartum women facing challenging life circumstances by including nutritional information and breastfeeding support.
The community action program for children supports the healthy living of vulnerable young children and their families through the promotion of physical activity and nutrition.
Finally, Aboriginal Head Start includes meals, snacks and nutritious advice to address the development needs of our first nations children.
The government is also providing Canadians with information to help them make healthy food choices. This includes “Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide” and its culturally-tailored companion guide “Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide - First Nations, Inuit and Métis”. These guides provide evidence-based information about how much food Canadians need, what types of foods are better for Canadians and the importance of physical activity.
Canada's Food Guide is a resource for individuals, as well as health educators and professionals. The food guide also underpins nutrition and health policies, as well as educational programs across the country.
Moreover, the healthy eating awareness and education initiative was launched in October 2010 with the nutrition facts education campaign. The campaign focuses on consumers understanding how to use the nutrition facts table to help them make healthy food choices, with a focus on understanding the use of the daily value percentage.
At the summit on healthy weights, we announced a further investment of $4 million for the initiative to continue to provide Canadians with the information needed to make healthy food choices.
We will do this by promoting healthy eating, using Canada's Food Guide, through outreach, partnerships, social media engagement and web tools.
While nutrition is a significant component of this motion, we are also promoting physical activity through programs like the children's fitness tax credit and the healthy living fund and providing information on how to get active. We are also using evidence to help develop effective programs and policies on childhood obesity.
Federal, provincial and territorial health ministers will report to Canadians every two years on childhood obesity trends and on progress being made across the country to tackle this challenge. This will help us to ensure the best value for our investment, while also allowing us to learn from the successful initiatives and to modify approaches as appropriate.