A regional obesity activist is encouraged by the provincial government’s announcement last month that it is bringing together a group of experts to help tackle the challenge of reducing childhood obesity by 20 percent over five years.
“I think any discussions represent hope,” said Paul Murphy, founder of Obesity Thunder Bay (www.obesitythunderbay.ning.com).
But Murphy added he hopes the Healthy Kids Panel’s recommendations will not focus on children’s weight loss and physical activity, but establishing healthy food relationships and the philosophy of “Health At Every Size” (HAES).
“When you make it about weight, you miss the key point,” he stressed. “I am eager to participate in it.
“We have some distorted views and visions—do we want to focus on weight and physical activity, or do we want improve on community health?” Murphy added.
Murphy stressed that Obesity Thunder Bay “will continue to offer support and guidance in the hope that the war on childhood obesity will be met with clarity and open and honest efforts,” adding that, “overweight and obese children are not the enemy.”
“It’s not about weight loss, it’s much more inclusive and supportive,” he reasoned.
“If we’re talking about inclusion and supporting people, I’m all for it,” he added, referring to the Healthy Kids Panel.
“I am glad Ontario is doing something, but this conversation is raging.”
One example is 14-year-old Julia Bluhm of Maine, who garnered media attention after getting thousands of signatures on a petition calling for Seventeen magazine to print one unaltered photo spread in each of its monthly issues.
“The self-esteem of young girls is the most critical thing right now,” said Murphy. “There’s no way they can live up to this artificial image.
“We don’t want eight- and nine year-old girls weighing themselves,” he stressed. “We want them out running, playing, eating good quality food, and we don’t want them acting out because they are a certain size.”
Murphy said obesity should be addressed using the same model that’s been used for treating tobacco addiction. For instance, if there’s a hotline for smokers wanting to quit, why not have an obesity help line?
Having that support system is vital.
“We don’t tackle smokers. There’s no need to tackle anybody,” he reasoned. “I don’t need to be tackled as an overweight person—what I need is a measure of understanding and inclusion.”
Murphy, who has been an obesity advocate for the past four years, still is hoping to get funding for a one-year project, where perhaps up to 1,000 participants begin a trial with getting their blood pressure checked, getting educated regarding food and healthy eating, and then following a healthy eating regimen for that year, using their blood pressure as a gauge of their success.
Murphy said he is waiting for Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro and Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle to send letters to Premier Dalton McGuinty on his behalf.
He wants to let McGuinty know Obesity Thunder Bay wants a trial done with the emphasis on controlling blood pressure.
Murphy concluded the obesity issue is a complex one, and there’s no simple solution, but there is a positive cultural shift happening, such as with the Bluhm story, and the Ontario government focusing on children is a good start.
The Healthy Kids Panel will be co-chaired by Alex Munter, CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and Kelly Murumets, president and CEO of ParticipACTION.
It will work with health-care leaders, non-profit organizations, and industry to create a unique model that draws on successful strategies to reduce childhood obesity.
The panel will provide the minister of health and long-term care with recommendations that are evidence-based and fiscally achievable, and will report back later this year with its first ones.
Minimizing the factors that contribute to obesity during childhood helps reduce the likelihood of being overweight and obese in adolescence and adulthood.
Childhood obesity is strongly linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gallbladder disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer.
In Ontario, 25.6 percent of children aged two-17 are overweight or obese.