Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to Bill C-252. This is a well-intentioned bill that is trying to address a serious issue in Canada, obesity in children.
In one of the previous Parliaments, I was actually the health critic when the former version of this bill came forward from the Senate. We know that Senator Nancy Greene Raine had brought that bill forward. In fact, she received a bit of teasing about it. As many of us will know, she was quite a famous skier but did a lot of promotional work for Mars bars, so when she came with Bill S-228, there was some teasing going on.
However, this is truly a very serious issue, because almost a third of children in Canada are obese, and it is just getting worse. Certainly, the pandemic did not make things better. I think we would all agree, even for those of us who are not children anymore, that we probably spent too much time at home snacking and putting on weight.
The bill is trying to address reducing obesity in children by controlling marketing that is intended specifically for children. If we look at places that have put this in place, there are a lot of them. Quebec was mentioned. Chile has had this program in place for a long time. The problem is that it is not working. That is the biggest problem. What happens is that they are measuring success by the number of packages they are able to have altered so that they are not directing it toward children, when, really, the measure we are looking for here is a reduction in the obesity of children. This is important because obesity is not just a serious health issue, but a cause of death.
If we look at obesity, we know that some of the related health problems are high blood pressure or heart disease. This is the number one killer of Canadians, heart disease and stroke. Type 2 diabetes is another very serious impact. Right now, there are 11 million Canadians who have diabetes or prediabetes. It is very well known that, through a mixture of diet and exercise, many Canadians who develop type 2 diabetes could have been prevented from doing that. There are many other health conditions, such as liver disease, sleep apnea and joint problems, not to mention the emotional toll. In school, we can imagine the teasing and bullying that often accompany those who are obese. This can be permanently damaging as well.
I am definitely very supportive of addressing obesity in children. It has actually tripled in the last 30 years in Canada. It is truly at an epidemic stage. The problem is that, in 2012, Quebec put in similar legislation to this and it still had a 30% increase in obesity over this length of time.
I think that if we look at the root causes of obesity and what medical science is saying about it, it is really saying that there are four factors that we need to address, or four factors that are the most important.
One is genetics and, really, we cannot do much about that. We are sort of born into the family that we are born into. I know of families who are all skinny forever and they eat way more than I am able to eat. Certainly I am envious, but I can do nothing about my own genetics, so I think that is not something the government can control.
Metabolism is another one, obviously, the metabolic rate. Generally, men have a higher metabolic rate than women, so that can be a factor. Of course, those with thyroid issues can also have metabolic impacts. Again, there is not much the government can do there.
Then there is lifestyle, such as diet and physical activity. This is a place where the government really can make some impacts. There have been studies around the world and if we look at places that have the best outcomes and the lowest obesity rates in the world, those are places like Denmark, France, Ireland, Latvia and Norway. If we take a look at what they are doing that is working, we see that there is more walking and cycling going on in many of these European countries than we have here. There is an effort in the schools to serve smaller portions of food, food that is not fried and has more vegetables. In France, they have three recesses to run around, as well as the weekly gym classes, so they are incorporating that into schools.
I certainly remember when I was in school. Keep in mind it was a different time back then, so I am more aged than many members here in the House, but in terms of diet, our household was not stellar. There were Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs and Alphabits for breakfast. My mother used to let us dip our toast in maple syrup. We ate baloney sandwiches on white bread and Kraft Dinner, Beefaroni and things like that. Sprinkle sandwiches were a thing when I was growing up, so none of that diet would be considered a healthy diet today.
At the time, there were no obese kids anywhere to be found in our area because we were running around all day. We were running around at school playing soccer. After school we were playing hide-and-seek, running to the park and jumping off the monkey bars. It was all about activity. There was a specific effort called Participaction at the time that was designed to get kids moving and to get kids active. I definitely think that is something worth focusing on, in addition to the move toward healthier foods.
Environment is the fourth factor that experts are saying is important. We have talked about the environment at school and the things that can be done there. Access to sports facilities, and getting people involved in sports, and access to nutritious food are important things. Right now, the affordability of life is impacting that. That is something that the government can have an impact on. If we think about it, the increases in the carbon tax have caused home heating prices to go up, gas prices to go up, and food prices, especially fresh produce, to go up beyond what those living on lower and maybe fixed incomes can actually afford. This is something that would translate into people not eating as nutritious a diet, so that is something that the government can impact by improving the affordability of life.
At the same time, because of the squeeze on everybody's pocketbooks, a lot of the money in the child tax benefit that we expect would be used to get kids into sports and help them to afford those things is actually being used to help pay the bills. The sports tax credit that we used to have was a specific thing that motivated people to get their kids involved in sports. Those are ideas that the government can implement that can have a really big impact.
In terms of the unintended negative consequences when the discussion came to committee in the last go-round on this bill, there were a lot of organizations like Tim Hortons and McDonald's and whatnot that sponsored children's sports efforts. There was a desire to have an exemption to make sure they would not be punished but could continue to market their products, which some would consider to be unhealthy. When the bill comes before committee, it would be worth looking at those exemptions.
The other discussion was about enforcement. All of the regimes that have put bills like this in place have had difficulty enforcing them, and it has become that much more difficult now that we are in a digital age. Kids have access to the Internet. It is very difficult to control what country they are viewing content from, so the enforcement part of this is a difficult one as well.
There are those who will point out that parental responsibility is important: that parents making healthy choices and helping their children learn to make healthy choices is what this ought to be about. There are those who will say that everybody needs to have their freedom. For me, if chips are in a dark bag with a skull and crossbones on it, I would probably still eat them, but people should have individual choice. There is something to that, and I think about everything in moderation. That said, I do not think that these measures have been effective, but we need to do everything possible to reduce obesity in our country and help our children.