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Monday, June 10, 2019
Alex Munter We’re letting Canadian kids eat themselves sick
A bill that would protect children is languishing in the Senate. We need it to tackle childhood obesity and chronic diseases
By Alex Munter
President and CEO
CHEO, The national capital’s pediatric health centre
If you’ve ever watched the hit TV series Mad Men, you’ll remember that everybody smoked. Everyone. Everywhere.
was a great show, in part, because it was like a trip back in time,
showing us what life was like in the American advertising industry in
the early 1960s. Smoking was just a part of normal life.
to today and smoking no longer looks normal. Modern viewers gasp, “Why
are they killing themselves like that? How could they think that
wouldn’t harm them?”
the mid-1960s, the link between smoking and cancer was confirmed and,
gradually, we achieved a great turnaround in attitudes and policies
about smoking. Tobacco taxes rose, advertising was banned, smoking was
stopped in work and public places, packages were made plain, with
graphic warnings and concealed in stores.
In short, governments made a concerted effort to force changes in smoking habits.
there’s still work to do, there has been notable success. The
percentage of smokers has plummeted and, with it, the cost of treating
tobacco-related health issues has been cut in half. As a society, we
We need to do it all over again. This time the target must be our diets, particularly those of our children.
are, quite literally, letting our kids eat themselves sick. Childhood
obesity has risen exponentially, and with it, dangerous chronic
diseases, starting in children. For the first time, we’re in real danger
of having a younger generation that doesn’t live as long as their
are many reasons for this. But just as smoking was normalized decades
ago by a flood of advertising and cheap, ready availability of appealing
products, so has the drinking of sugary drinks and eating of processed
foods high in sugar, saturated fat and salt become ubiquitous among our
see the results every day in Canada’s children’s hospitals, including
the one I lead. At a retirement party a few years ago for a longtime
nurse in our diabetes clinic, she noted that when she started in the
mid-1970s, all the children seen in the clinic had Type 1 diabetes –
no longer the case. A growing number of children and youth we see have
Type 2 diabetes – caused by their diet. They face a future of health
people are aware of the connection between obesity and chronic diseases
such as diabetes and heart disease. Less well known is its correlation
with cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society earlier this month reported
that excess weight is expected to become the second leading preventable
cause of cancer, behind only the continued effects of tobacco use.
What should we do to fix this huge problem?
no magic bullet, but we won’t even begin to tackle this until we stop
bombarding our children with messages online and everywhere else they
look about how great these foods taste. Over 90 per cent of food and drink ads they see on TV and online are for products high in sugar, salt and saturated fat.
why the federal government has wisely decided to restrict advertising
of food and beverages to children. It’s already done in many other
places, including in Quebec, where this important step was taken almost
40 years ago.
legislation, Bill S-228, originated in the Senate almost three years
ago as a response from Conservative Sen. Nancy Greene Raine to the
Senate report Obesity in Canada.
was approved by our elected MPs last September and returned to the
Senate for what should have been a routine second approval before it
became law. It’s been almost 1,000 days since the bill was first
introduced in the Senate.
still waiting and time is running out. If not approved in the next few
weeks, this vital bill will die when Parliament rises for the summer and
the fall election. That’s not OK.
chaired an Ontario expert panel on childhood obesity in 2013 that
recommended this change. Many other reports have reiterated that call
over the years.
Our kids have waited long enough. It’s time.
Alex Munter is president and CEO of CHEO, the national capital’s pediatric health centre.