February 2, 2017 10:54 am

‘The kids are not alright’: how can we improve our children’s health?

In this March 14, 2014 picture, students take part in an early morning running program at an elementary school in Chula Vista, Calif.

Gregory Bull/AP Photo

February is heart health month and a new report released by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada is sounding the alarm about our children’s health.

The 2017 Report on the Health of Canadians focuses on the negative impact of marketing on Canadian children and highlights the need for stricter regulations when it comes to advertising unhealthy foods to kids.

According to the study, children are exposed to over 25 million food and beverage ads online via their favourite websites.

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They can see four to five food commercials for every hour of TV they watch.

READ MORE: Canadian kids bombarded with more than 25M junk food and drink ads online every year

In the past thirty years, the child obesity levels in the country have more than tripled with almost one in every three children being overweight.

Quebec already has legislation in place banning advertising to children under the age of 13 and according to Andreas Bergdahl, an associate professor of cardiovascular physiology at Concordia University, it seems to translate into health benefits.

Bergdahl said that, despite being more sedentary, Quebec kids eat more fruits and vegetables and have less obesity rates than their peers in Ontario.

READ MORE: Why your child’s weight in grade 5 could predict future obesity risk

So while Quebec children may have a leg up on the rest of Canada, there’s still a lot to do.

“We are seeing children being treated for the same diseases as their grandparents,” Bergdahl said.

“We see young children with hypertension and type II diabetes.”

The Heart and Stroke foundation estimates the economic burden of obesity is between $4.6 billion and $7.1 billion annually.

READ MORE: Obese children as young as 8 show signs of heart disease: study

But according to Bergdahl there are things we can do now to help our children remain healthy.

“First you have to reduce the caloric intake, especially those empty calories,” he said explaining empty calories come from highly processed foods with added sugar, sodium and fat.

The report on health indicates that processed foods make up nearly 60 per cent of family food purchases.

READ MORE: Here’s how to approach teen obesity, eating disorders, according to new guidelines

On top of making healthier food choices, Bergdahl recommends being more physically active.

“Just because they’ve [the kids] had one hour of soccer practice, doesn’t mean they can sit on the couch and eat snacks all evening,” he said.

“We have to think about what we do for the rest of the 23 hours.”

On average, Canadian children watch two hours of TV and spend a total of eight hours in front of a screen on a daily basis.

READ MORE: 1 in 4 Canadian toddlers overweight or obese, study says

Bergdahl suggests parents renegotiate screen time in the home.

“If they [the kids] want to spend a half hour in front of the screen, they have to spend half an hour playing outside,” he said.

Bergdahl even intimated schools could play a role in getting kids to be more active.

“Just extending recess by 10 minutes every day could have a big impact,” he said.

The full report can be found on the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s website.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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