While Canada is one of the world’s most prosperous nations, the health of our children is dismal: Canadian school-aged youth are among the most obese in the world (27 out of 29 developed nations). It is known that six in ten obese children have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and an additional 25% have two or more risk factors. Moreover, more than two-thirds of obese children will become obese adults. This sobering data underscores the significant long-term health implications of childhood obesity in Canada.

Inactivity and poor dietary practices are widespread among today’s children and youth and experts believe that increasing obesity rates are reflective of an obesogenic social environment. Many factors contribute to the development of such a social setting including: an increased exposure to poor-quality food through an overabundance of nutritionally unbalanced snacks, convenience and fast foods; superfluous advertising of nutrient-poor, high-sugar foods aimed at children; and the lower cost of calorically dense, less nutritionally valuable food choices are also considered important contributing factors to this modern epidemic. Our youth know the beverage list at many coffee houses as well as adults do, and since many of the fancy “mocha” or “frappa” varieties contain 300 to 500 kcal, this can be a substantial addition to daily caloric consumption and may displace healthier high-fibre fruit, vegetables or other suitable snacks.

The Canadian Community Health Survey identified that 23% of children’s caloric intake is from ‘other food’ not falling into one of the four food groups, that approximately 70% of children are not meeting the recommended intake for fruit and vegetables, and that well over 90% of Canadian youth have usual sodium intake above the recommended upper intake level. The eating habits children learn when they are young will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults and the modification of school cultures to encourage healthful eating and reduce consumption of unhealthy foods could provide perpetuity, allowing successful interventions to continue to benefit students year after year. Given the amount of time children and youth spend in school, this environment can significantly influence students’ food choices and intakes and thus is an ideal location to target healthy eating. Similarly pediatric hospitals play a leadership role in communities and are uniquely positioned to influence the behaviour of children and their families toward the adoption of healthy eating habits and other health promoting behaviours. This newsletter will focus on areas where health promotion and championing of fruit and vegetable consumption could benefit our children.

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