It may be cliché to say that kids are the future, but it’s the truth. That’s why advocacy group Children First Canada (CFC) put together a top ten list of issues they want federal parties to focus on in the upcoming election.
“We know in Saskatchewan that a significant number of kids are facing domestic violence in their homes, child abuse, and neglect — particularly for First Nations children,” CFC founder Sarah Austin said.
This bleeds into several issues on CFC’s list including suicide, mental health (Saskatchewan has 705 youth hospitalizations per 100,000 in 2017-18) and poverty (10.3 per cent child poverty). These have all been highlighted by Saskatchewan’s children’s advocate office in recent years.
According to the CFC, it can also take a toll on physical health — most notably the childhood obesity rate.
“Nationally, the rates of childhood obesity are one in four, but in Saskatchewan it’s one in three,” Austin said.
“Again, it can be linked to some of the other issues that we’re talking about; the high number of kids growing up in poverty. Kids that grow up in poverty are much less likely to have nutritious food and a healthy diet.”
Obesity is one of Katya Herman’s main areas of research. The associate professor in the University of Regina’s Faculty of Kinesiology pointed to the phenomenon of food deserts — a lack of grocery stores in lower-income residential areas.
“There’s already a pretty strong association between socioeconomic status and overall health in the population as well as in children and obesity as well,” Herman said.
“Then we add these neighbourhood factors into that and it definitely plays a role in obesity rates and physical activity levels of the children.”
Geography also plays a role in access to nutritious food. A 2015 Saskatchewan Ministry of Health report found a healthy grocery cart to feed a family of four for a week in southern Saskatchewan cost $228.83, but $314.69 in the north.
On the activity side, Herman said easy, safe access to outdoor play areas is crucial in developing healthy habits in kids.
“I have the benefit of having a park near me. I can encourage my newborn child to be active from an early age. Not everybody has that,” she said.
However, even those with safe access to parks aren’t taking full advantage. Physiotherapist and co-owner of Craven SPORT Services in Saskatoon, Bruce Craven, has noticed a decline in physical literacy. He sees this as foundational to overall, long term physical health.
“I think the biggest challenge in our education system right now is teaching physical literacy to kids. Teaching them how to hop, skip, jump, run, and move in an appropriate manner so they can manage diseases and most importantly weight management,” Craven said.
“We know that childhood obesity leads to so many health risks later in life.”
On the flip side, Craven said strong physical literacy can contribute to a healthy lifestyle throughout a person’s life.
Even outside socio-economic factors, Craven said he’s seeing more instances of parents not seeing the playground as a safe place for youngsters.
“We tend to bubble wrap our kids, which also becomes a problem. So there’s the socio-economic side of it where food, food access becomes an issue. There’s the socio-economics of kids not being able to exposed to outside school activities, and then there’s parents perceiving their community playgrounds aren’t a safe place to play,” he said.
Craven added organized sport is often seen as an answer, but an over-reliance runs the risk of only developing certain physical skills instead of taking a more whole-bodied approach.