About one-quarter of Canadians aged two to 17 are overweight or obese, and they are expected to live shorter lives than their parents, the Commons health committee warnedTuesday.

An all-party committeereport titled Healthy Weight for Healthy Kids calls on the federal government to stop the trend toward increasing obesity levels among Canadian children by the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, and todecrease levels by at least 25 per cent by 2020.

The excess weight puts children at risk of a range of preventable health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, susceptibility to heart attack and stroke, joint problems and mental health issues.

"It has been said that obesity outranks both smoking and drinking now in its effects on health and health costs," said committee chair Rob Merrifield, a Conservative MP for the Alberta riding of Yellowhead.

"For the first time in recorded history, today's younger generation will live shorter lives than their parents. Yet parents, and this is, I believe, the most alarming statistic that we found, do not recognize the problem."

According to a survey by the Canadian Medical Association, nine per cent of parents identified their children as being overweight or obese.

Rates among aboriginal children are worse, with 55 per centliving on reserves being overweight or obese, compared with 41 per cent for First Nations children living off reserves, said the report.

Children on reserves are also snacking on processed, high-sugar foods, but statistics suggest obesity levels go down considerably if one meal a day is made of traditional First Nations food, Merrifield said.

The report calls on the federal government to immediately:

  • Start acomprehensive public awareness campaign.
  • Mandate standardized labels on the front of packages.
  • Remove trans fats from the Canadian diet andreplace themwith an alternative low in saturated fat.

"We have to change the paradigm so that it's unfashionable to overeat and it's very fashionable to exercise more," Merrifield said.

It will probably take a generation to change the culture, but it is possible, said Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, who sits on the committee.

In response to the report, non-profit consumer group Centre for Science in the Public Interest renewed its calls to limit commercially motivated pressures on children to eat, drink and be inactive.

The Commons committee's report called for a review ofthe food and beverage industry's self-regulation of their advertising to children.