On a long bicycle ride a few months ago, I found a bright yellow bracelet.
I picked it up and put it on. Written on it were the words ‘Live Strong.’
In some strange way these words have served me as a motivator.
They are a constant reminder that good health is hard work; excellent health harder still.
Learning to live strong is something I will have to do by myself. My health is ultimately my responsibility. The rewards of living a healthy lifestyle, however, extend far beyond the self.
In today’s world I fear that living strong has lost its appeal. In fact, healthful living may have become the dinosaur of the 21st century.
For the first time in recent history, young Canadians now run the risk of living less healthful and therefore shorter lives than did their parents. That’s not how it was supposed to work.
In a recent report — Healthy Weight for Healthy Kids — we discover that one-quarter of Canadian children are not living strong.
The road ahead is not a pretty one for these children.
The report states that children between the ages of two and 17 will live shorter lives than did their parents.
These kids will likely suffer from Type 2 diabetes, will be more likely to suffer heart attack and stroke, and will likely be plagued by the pain of joint problems.
They will likely succumb to various mental health problems.
The intention of the report is to motivate parents, community workers and bureaucrats to stop the trend toward obesity in children by the 2010 Olympics, and to even see a decrease in the levels of obesity by 25 per cent in 2020.
According to Rob Merrifeld, the Conservative MP for the Alberta riding of Yellowhead and the chair of the committee, which produced the report: “It has been said that obesity outranks both smoking and drinking now in its effects on health and health costs.”
The report concludes that “for the first time in recorded history, today’s younger generation will live shorter lives than their parents … and yet parents do not recognize the problem.”
Government, according to the report “should begin a public relations campaign to mandate standardized labels on the front of packages; and it must seek ways to replace trans fats and substitute them with alternatives low in saturated fats.”
There is a serious problem with this approach. Besides being too little too late, the main thrust of the report puts the onus for good health on government. It was not the government that made children obese, and government will not crack these children into shape.
Good health, active living and proper weight for our children are all questions of personal responsibility. Parents are key here, not government. It is primarily a parent’s responsibility to get their own kids up off their butts and moving.
Parents must find active (and meaningful) work for their children to do. They must encourage them to walk, bicycle, run and ski. Children do not burn calories in front of the television or computer.
While this may sound simple, it is not. In fact slimming our children down will take major renovations in our culture and in our economy.
We should not expect our children to walk to and from school in neighbourhoods that are not safe. Very few are. Street crime, child violence and drugs are playing havoc on the health of our children.
We have created a consumer mentality that is killing our kids. We compete with our neighbours to see who can buy our children the most toys.
When they turn 16, they get a car. Soon after that, it’s party time and they guzzle down beer like it’s water.
By the time they are 21, they are locked into a lifestyle that has made them fat, sluggish, and poorly motivated. It has also shortened their life span.
While this was certainly not the goal of the “now generation,” this is where we are today. Government did not get us here, it won’t save our kids.
While it is certainly the responsibility of parents to insure good health for their own children, there is still a role for government to play in all of this. But the role must extend far beyond finding substitutes for saturated fats and honest labeling of consumer products.
We need school programs that emphasise active living and hard work. We need sports programs that de-emphasize competition and encourage children of all abilities to play hard and have fun.
We need an education that replaces indoor computers with outdoor environmental education — the kind that teaches children to be in touch with the natural world and by extension be in touch with their own bodies.
Government can help our children in this way but it should not take the load off parents. If it does, it puts the load — and the extra pounds — right back on our children.