New Brunswick

Top tip for making New Brunswickers healthier? Mandatory home ec in school

The New Brunswick Medical Society is calling on the provincial government to require home economics and physical education classes in schools as a way to make the population healthier, based on the results of a public survey released Monday.

Adding home economics to curriculum was public's No. 1 suggestion to New Brunswick Medical Society

New Brunswick Medical Society president Dr. Lynn Murphy-Kaulbeck says New Brunswickers face barriers to improving their health and need community and environmental supports. (CBC)

The New Brunswick Medical Society is calling on the provincial government to reintroduce mandatory home economics and physical education classes as a way to make the population healthier, based on the results of a public survey released on Monday.

The organization, which represents the province's doctors, surveyed New Brunswickers over the past few months, asking for suggestions to improve overall health.

Adding mandatory home economics classes to the school curriculum was the No. 1 suggestion among the 795 people who participated, according to the report.

We know personal choices play a significant role in determining a person's health, but we also know the environment people live in and the options available to them are important players as well.- Lynn  Murphy-Kaulbeck , N.B. Medical Society

"Many New Brunswicker lack the skill and knowledge to prepare healthy meals and so [they] turn to prepackaged convenient foods or fast food restaurants instead," said Dr. Lynn Murphy-Kaulbeck, president of the medical society.

Home ec courses could teach youth how to prepare their own foods, safe food handling and basic nutrition, she said.

New Brunswick has one of the highest obesity rates in the country. Up to 63 per cent of adults, and up to 36 per cent of children in New Brunswick are overweight or obese, according to some recent studies.

The medical has set of goal of making New Brunswick one of the top three healthiest provinces in Canada within the next 10 years.

Some recent studies indicate up to 63 per cent of adults and up to 36 per cent of children in New Brunswick are overweight or obese. (Reuters)
"We know personal choices play a significant role in determining a person's health, but we also know the environment people live in and the options available to them are important players as well," said Murphy-Kaulbeck.

The report, Top 3 in 10: Taking Back New Brunswick's Health, is the "template" to enacting specific, measurable changes that can help New Brunswickers live healthier lives, she said.

"If we don't start to do something about this, you know, I don't want to sound overly dramatic, but it could cripple our system," said Murphy-Kaulbeck.

Many of the suggestions are not "big ticket items," she added.

Mandatory physical education through to graduation, for example, "would go part of the way to ensure children and youth are physically active," according to the report.

The Department of Education should also ensure school cafeterias follow provincial policy, which mandates nutritional food content, the report states.

Tax on sugary drinks

Dr. Ben Hoyt acknowledged the recommendation for a tax on sugary drinks is controversial, but stressed it comes from New Brunswickers. (CBC)
Another "popular" recommendation among the 1,452 ideas submitted by citizens since September is to implement a provincial tax on sugary drinks, such as pop, and directing that revenue toward health promotion or helping low-income families afford healthier food.

"Dozens and dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of people suggested some form of tax on unhealthy foods and the one that came up most frequently was sugared beverages," said Dr. Ben Hoyt, chair of the medical society's health policy and promotion committee.

"We all recognize a tax on anything is not exactly everyone's favourite subject, particularly if you're a politician and you're looking to get re-elected, it's a taboo word," he said.

"I think this should give our leaders the political will to recognize that this isn't just us as a medical society [recommending this tax], this is the population of New Brunswick saying now's the time, let's lead rather than follow. Let's be the first province to do this."

Premier Brian Gallant has previously said the provincial government "could potentially be convinced" to tax pop and other unhealthy, sugary drinks as an obesity-curbing measure — one that's already been debated extensively in Quebec and other provinces.

"There would have to be a multitude of things that would happen at the time," Gallant has said, adding that if the government were to introduce such a measure, it would have to couple it with measures to increase access to healthy food.

Widened, paved shoulders

Ellen Watters, 28, was widely hailed as a rising star in Canadian cycling. (Submitted by Emily Flynn)
The medical society's 20-page report also recommends providing better access to active transportation and making it safer by widening and paving shoulders every time a road is resurfaced.

"Active transportation like walking or cycling is not always a safe, viable option, as seen most recently with the push to enact Ellen's law," said Murphy-Kaulbeck.

The lobby to amend legislation to ensure motorists stay at least a metre away from cyclists while passing them stems from the death of cycling star Ellen Watters last month.

Watters, 28, died on Dec. 27, four days after being involved in a collision with a vehicle during a training run in Sussex.

The other main themes addressed in the report include:

  • Making the province a healthier employer, and provincial environments healthier.
  • Ensuring a healthy lifestyle is more affordable.
  • Access to community and outdoor infrastructure to support activities.
  • Altering retail environments.

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