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New report urges prevention of chronic disease

TORONTO—Higher tobacco taxes, mandatory phys. ed. credits throughout high school, and more health information on menus are a few recommendations in a new report aimed at the Ontario government.

The report by Cancer Care Ontario and Public Health Ontario supplies a range of recommendations in the areas of smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and healthy eating—all aimed at preventing chronic disease.

“We actually need to start to talk about health, and not health care,” said Dr. Vivek Goel, president and CEO of Public Health Ontario.

“Too many of our conversations about health wind up being conversations about the health-care system, and we have to recognize that if we’re really going to be worried about the sustainability of our health-care system, we have to think about ‘How do we keep people healthy in the first place?’”

The report presents strategies for action that would cut across sectors of government, the broader public sector and not-for-profit, and for-profit groups.

Dr. Michael Sherar, president and CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, said the focus is on preventing cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes.

“Approximately a quarter of all of our spending in health care is aimed at looking after these patients,” he said in an interview.

“And so we think there’s tremendous potential if we are able to reduce exposure to these risk factors in the population, that we will reduce the growth in new cases of chronic disease.”

Sherar said action is needed now, not only because of the costs associated with looking after sick people by the health-care system but also because people with chronic illnesses can’t always contribute effectively to the prosperity of organizations where they’re employed.

“So there’s a huge other financial burden to the province in terms of lost productivity,” he noted.

Among the recommendations in the report is a call for an amendment to the Smoke-Free Ontario Act to include a ban on smoking on unenclosed bar and restaurant patios, including a buffer zone of nine metres from the perimeter of the patio.

Efforts to help people quit smoking should build on existing resources in hospitals, primary care, and community settings, the report said, and there should be a social marketing campaign to motivate people to quit.

As for alcohol, it said there should be minimum pricing per standard drink across all alcoholic beverages, indexed to inflation, and there should not be further privatization of “off-premise” alcohol retail sales in Ontario.

A physical education credit currently is mandatory in Grade 9, but Goel said it should be mandatory right through to graduation.

In addition, the report calls for an Ontario food and nutrition strategy that would include compulsory food skills in elementary and secondary school.

And the report recommended support for healthy eating in publicly-funded institutions, as well as mandatory menu labelling in food service operations.

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