The first banana bread and a few other items are the latest in a series of offerings to be part of a campaign by Canada’s federal government to lower obesity rates, which are on the rise among young Canadians.
A total of 4,974 children aged six and under in Canada were tracked through a national food-frequency survey this year, the first since 2009, to look at obesity trends.
That’s down from a peak of 5,982 children in 2011.
The results suggest Canada is on the verge of a long-awaited recovery, even as the federal government continues to push the nation’s economy to the brink of recession.
“It’s going to be a long process to see if the trend we’re seeing continues,” said Dr. Michelle King, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine.
“The federal government has a responsibility to be very proactive about that.”
King has been tracking the health of children and adults across Canada for decades, and has become a leader in public health and public policy.
She said the latest survey is the first step in that process.
“There are still some things to be done,” she said.
“But I’m really optimistic that we can continue to reduce our obesity rates in the next 10 years.”
While it’s difficult to predict exactly what will happen with obesity rates as the country approaches the 10-year mark, King said there’s a good chance that it will get worse.
“I don’t think we can say we’re in remission,” she told reporters in Ottawa.
“If anything we are going to have a very difficult recovery in a number of years.”
The federal government is trying to curb Canada’s obesity rate, which is now at a record high.
The National Obesity Strategy, developed by the federal, provincial and territorial governments and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, recommends that Canadian children be encouraged to eat healthier, cut back on junk food and be physically active.
But the federal strategy also recommends that Canadians stick with their traditional foods and behaviours.
And while some nutrition experts have suggested the federal Government of Canada may be trying to push its obesity strategy too far, King has said that’s not the case.
“We’re not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with the strategy,” she explained.
“In fact, there are some good things that it does.”
King said it’s a shame that Canada’s health-care system is not better equipped to handle the increased burden of obesity.
“For all the things that we do, there’s still a long way to go,” she added.
The new campaign comes as a national health-insurance plan, announced by Health Minister Rona Ambrose in October, aims to cut health-related costs by $2 billion per year by 2020.
It’s aimed at helping more Canadians manage their health and help reduce the cost of living.
In addition, the federal and provincial governments announced last week they will phase out the so-called “insurance premium,” a program that provides Canadians with government-backed insurance that pays for medical and other services, including prescription drugs.
The government says the premium has been proven to save lives and prevent costly hospitalizations.
King said the new campaign is part of the government’s effort to make Canadians feel more confident about their health.
“Health care is a fundamental part of life,” she noted.
“Our government’s got a plan that we’re going to work hard to make sure it’s an essential part of every single life in Canada.”
A federal spokesperson said the federal Liberals are committed to supporting health-based initiatives to reduce obesity and other health disparities and said the government is “committed to improving the health care system.”
The new national campaign follows a similar one announced by the government of British Columbia in May.
The province launched a national “healthy food plan” this year and also unveiled a plan to cut waste by eliminating unnecessary hospital visits and prescription drug prescriptions.
A government-wide campaign to promote healthy eating in British Columbia was launched last week.
King expects the next federal government, which takes office in October 2017, to continue its campaign on obesity.