Legislating healthier diet options to stem obesity is an option that health officials in cities across Canada are considering.
This week, municipal leaders in Lunenburg County, N.S., plan to adopt a new healthy food policy to bring in more fruit and whole grains and fewer fries and chips at all recreation facilities and events.
High-calorie, processed foods will be limited to 20 per cent of the menu.
Trudy Payne is in charge of recreation services for five municipalities in the county, which has one of the highest rates of obesity in Canada.
"We're in the business of healthy active lifestyles and healthy living and our recreation settings aren't reflecting that message," said Payne.
The coach of the Bridgewater Lumberjacks hockey team supports the move to offer more nutritious choices to players.
"Some people are going to come to the rink and be disappointed, but I think it's a step in the right direction for all of us."
Payne said she wanted to follow the lead of Prince George, B.C. and Ontario's Niagara Region in regards to healthy eating policies for recreational facilities.
After Statistics Canada reported last week that one in three children and teens in Canada are either overweight or obese, obesity and public health experts renewed calls for changes in schools and homes.
"We need to make fundamental changes, we need to make aggressive campaigns and many campaigns stacked on one another," said Marc Tremblay, director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. "No one thing is going to cause the type of change that we're looking for in our society."
If more changes are not made, the younger generation will need care for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea at the same time an aging population is already placing demands on a stretched health-care system, Tremblay said.
Super-sized pop ban
"We have this generation of kids that is like a living experiment right now, and we're hoping for the best but some of our intuition would tell us that there are many bad days ahead as a result of this."
Banning super-sized sugar-sweetened beverages, as New York City did earlier this month, is the latest legislative move toward better health.
On Friday, the New England Journal of Medicine published three studies on the association between increased consumption of the drinks and the development of obesity in children, teens and adults.
The randomized, controlled studies "provide a strong impetus to develop recommendations and policy decisions to limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, especially those served at low cost and in excessive portions, to attempt to reverse the increase in childhood obesity," Dr. Sonia Caprio of the pediatrics department at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. said in a journal editorial accompanying the research.
"Such interventions, if successful, may also help prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes and its complications in youth."
Other proposals for municipalities include:
- Taxing junk food as Denmark did last year.
- Legislating the posting of calories on menus as New York City did in 2008.
- Banning advertising of unhealthy food to children, which Quebec introduced 30 years ago.
"Having readily available information about calories and nutritional characteristics when people are making the decision about what to eat is important," said Dr. David McKeown, Medical Officer of Health for Toronto.
Kyle Symchysn, 21, of Brampton, Ont., said legislation might help. Symchysn weighed 205 pounds at age 15 and then lost about 60 pounds after years of discipline.
"I was always the fat kid growing up," Symchysn said. When he asked himself if he wanted to stay that way, the answer was a resounding "No."
"It was an easy decision to make, but it was hard carrying it through," he recalled.
Symchysn said he mainly had to curb his diet. Instead of eating several sandwiches in one sitting, he eats smaller portions of healthy food and stays active. He’s now active on Facebook, coaching other children to replicate his success.