Canada needs to do more to invest in the health and safety of children not only to avoid putting them at risk but also to drive the economy, according to a new report.

Tuesday' biennial report from the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) concludes federal, provincial and territorial governments could take concrete steps to better protect and promote kids' health and well-being in areas such as injury and disease prevention. 

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The return from investments in early childhood education range from an estimated vary from $4 to $8 for every dollar spent. (Ian Barrett/Canadian Press)

"There continues to be a piecemeal approach to keeping children and youth healthy and safe in Canada and it's putting kids at risk," said Dr. Andrew Lynk, the group's vice president.

Government-led health promotion strategies such as car booster seats save lives and prevent injury, they said. The report's authors gave British Columbia and Ontario a mark of "excellent" for their booster-seat legislation. Alberta and Saskatchewan scored a "poor" for having no law.

Manitoba was "fair" because its legislation needs to be stronger, the group said.

The territories also received a poor or fair grade, Quebec was awarded a mark of "good," while the Atlantic provinces were all rated as excellent.

Booster seats are designed to protect children who have outgrown their car seats but are still too small to be properly protected by a seatbelt.

Improving mental health

The pediatric society also said evidence is mounting on the value of early investments in youth and children.

Child poverty leads to higher health care costs that take a toll on human potential and productivity, they said.

The group urged governments to implement programs aimed at reducing the economic disparities in Canada, where it said nearly 700,000 of the country's five million children live in poverty.

Similarly, CPS called for investments in early childhood education, saying estimates of the return to society on every dollar spent on such programs vary from $4 to $8.

Many provinces and territories have introduced policies to improve the mental health of children and youth but there is more to be done, the report's authors said.

In Labrador on Tuesday, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Peter Penashue, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, announced funding for researchers to review and analyze evidence on suicide prevention and to make the information available to community members and leaders.

Provinces and territories were commended in the report for continuing to strengthen anti-smoking laws, with all earning grades of "excellent" or "good."

The report also evaluated provinces and territories on newborn hearing screening and an enhanced 18-month well-baby visit. Ontario earned an "excellent" for the well-baby visit and all other provinces and territories scored "poor."

The grades were "kind of a scatterbag," Lynk said.

"It's a big motivating factor because who wants to be the health minister and know that your province isn't doing as well as your neighbour next door in something as important as child and youth health."

With files from The Canadian Press