Vote for a Healthier, Stronger BC! - Healthy Living Issues and the Provincial Election: A Report from the BC Healthy Living Alliance Webinar
The BC Healthy Living Alliance recently hosted a webinar aimed at identifying healthy living issues and how they relate to the upcoming provincial election. The first speaker, Dr. John Miller, discussed the obesity epidemic in Canada. Noting that 25.3% of Canadians are now obese, he concluded that what we have been doing to battle obesity hasn’t worked. The increased prevalence of obesity now costs Canadians between 4 and 6 billion dollars a year and has been linked to increased hypertension, cancer and poor mental health.
Dr. Miller identified two major areas in which we can set priorities for lowering the incidence of obesity amongst children:
- Reducing overall calorie consumption
- Increasing physical activity
Promising interventions for the reduction of calorie consumption were identified as:
- Legislating an increased tax on sugar sweetened beverages
- Better labeling on food products
- Restricting the advertising of unhealthy foods to young people. This includes limiting sponsorship opportunities aimed at children as well.
- Restricting the sales of junk food in the areas of schools
- Working to reduce salt intake
Dr. Miller noted that battling this epidemic will not only take interventions aimed at restricting access to unhealthy food, but will need to include increasing the availability of healthy foods. This includes:
- Subsidizing the high costs of fruits and vegetables in rural and disadvantaged communities.
- Investing in urban farming programs
- Investing in community-based obesity prevention programs
To increase physical activity for children, Dr. Miller discussed investing in the “built” environment (parks, pools, trails), increasing school programs around physical activity, and developing comprehensive community programs.
Dr. Miller discussed the economic argument for investing in programs and legislation aimed at reducing obesity. Not only does obesity directly relate to a loss of productivity and decreased global competitiveness, but the makers of unhealthy foods are achieving record profits while their products directly relate to increased health care costs for which they are not responsible. Borrowing the example of the tobacco industry, Dr. Miller argued for increased taxes on sugar sweetened beverages that will then contribute to these added health care costs. This taxation model has been generally accepted by the public and has led to a reduction in smoking over the last few decades.
The second speaker, Dr. Brian O’Conner, discussed the social determinants of health and how these health inequities are increasing in Canada. He notes that societies with a wider health gap are more likely to experience increases in social problems that carry both a high monetary and ethical cost.
In looking at children and families, Dr. O’Conner discussed both the cycle of poverty and the fact that most children living in poverty live in families where at least 1 parent is working full time. He calls on increased early childhood development opportunities to set children up for a lifetime of success, as well as community programs to support young families.
Dr. O’Conner identified the adoption of a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with concrete targets and timelines as a solution to this problem. This plan includes sub-strategies regarding early childhood development, and income, housing and food security. Newfoundland has experienced a poverty reduction rate of between 45 and 50% as a result of such a plan.
Finally, Suzanne Allard Strutt from the BC Recreation and Parks Association advocated for new and improved recreation facilities, as well as public investment in active transportation. Our current investment in recreation facilities is approximately 14% of what it was in the 1970’s. She notes that our facilities are aging and that new, efficient and sustainable facilities are required to meet changing community needs. This would include a life cycle approach including ongoing capital funding and support regarding cooperative and efficient program delivery.
With regards to active transportation (walking, cycling), audits tell us that people are 2.5 times more likely to walk in pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods. An investment in walking/cycling paths will not only lead to increased physical activity and a cleaner environment, but will also help build and sustain strong local economies, boost retail sales and increase tourism.
The BC Healthy Living Alliance is urging British Columbians to vote for a healthier, stronger BC with these issues and solutions in mind. Visit their website for additional information.