British Columbia

3 tips to fight childhood obesity

It's going to take a concerted effort from parents and government to combat childhood obesity in Canada, according to a doctor at the forefront of the national obesity epidemic.

'It's not about weight; it's about health'

Stock photo of teen on a scale. (Getty Images/Stock photo)

It's going to take a concerted effort from parents and government to combat childhood obesity in Canada, according to a doctor at the forefront of the national obesity epidemic.

Doctor Tom Warshawski, director of the Childhood Obesity Foundation, says the government should play an active role in combating the fight against childhood obesity, which affects nearly a third of Canadian children but admits that parents feel they bear the brunt of the responsibility.

"The buck sort of does stop with the family," said Warshawski on CBC's B.C. Almanac, adding that while many Canadian parents would welcome some government assistance, such as a ban on advertising sugary foods and beverages to children, 85 per cent of whom still admit it is their job to keep their children healthy.

According to the COF, childhood obesity can lead to "increased risk of premature onset of illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease." 

Warshawski says if children are obese by age 14, there is an 80 per cent chance their condition will persist or worsen as they enter adulthood.

The Liberal government has addressed the fight against childhood obesity. 

In 2015, Justin Trudeau issued a mandate letter to Health Minister Jane Philpott to look at legislation in order to reduce the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to kids, as well as tighter regulations on the levels of transfats and salts in processed foods.

While the proposed regulations have yet to be implemented, Warshawski offered tips for parents who are battling the epidemic.

1. Take authority

Warshawski says there's tremendous amounts of societal pressures to buy snacks like Lunchables and sodas, and that it can be difficult for parents to say no.

"It takes unusual fortitude to stand up to that," he said, adding that parents need to adopt the opposite attitude.

He says it's important to recognize unhealthy habits and stay away from the mindset that an extra bag of chips here and there won't hurt. Parents can then begin to take control of their children's diet.

Warshawski says the 5-2-1-0 rule is a good daily habit for children to get into: five fruits or vegetables per day , two hours maximum of screen time, one hour of exercise and no sugary drinks. (Sam Martin/CBC)

2. Stick to a recommended diet

Warshawski says diets are generally unique to the individual, but that the CFO is starting to advocate "a specific type of diet in terms of low simple carbohydrates," as well as reductions in transfats and saturated fats.

He also emphasizes the importance of habits, including adequate sleep and adherence to the daily 5-2-1-0 rule (five or more fruits and veggies, two hours or less of screen time, one hour of exercise, and no sugary drinks), as necessary to maintaining optimal health.

3. It's a family battle

Warshawski says one of the keys to a healthier lifestyle is making it a group effort.

"Everybody in the family has to buy into this," he said. "You don't pick up your child and say 'no, you're having a weight problem, this is your issue — the rest of us can have chips and pop.'"

He says if you set the habits right for the family, it's more likely to translate to a healthier lifestyle for the child.

Warshawski says family dinners can play a big role in this, offering parents both the chance to eat healthier as a family and a platform to regularly communicate with their children.

With files from CBC's B.C. Almanac

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Dr. Tom Warshawski of the Childhood Obesity Foundation Offers Tips for Parents