Let’s take those new year’s resolutions seriously

We’re almost a month into the new year and some of us have already lost sight of the lofty exercise and weight loss goals we set for ourselves on Jan.1.

We all start the year with good intentions — overflowing parking lots at most gyms during the first few weeks of January will attest to that — but as the weeks wear on, many of us fall off the proverbial wagon and end up straying from those resolutions.

Overall, most of us think we’re in pretty decent shape. The numbers say otherwise, though. According to the just released Canadian Health Measures Survey, only 15 per cent of Canadians meet the minimum recommended standard of exercise each week.

Instead of the suggested 150 minutes of weekly exercise (that’s about 20 minutes a day), we spend almost 70 per cent of our waking hours sitting still. And young people are even less active — only seven per cent of those aged five to 17 get the recommended daily 60 minutes of physical activity.

Lack of exercise, along with poor eating habits, are directly linked to obesity, which increases the risk of health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many other serious conditions. According to the Ministry of Finance, Ontario is spending about 46 cents of every dollar on health care. Yes, we have an aging population that will contribute to an increase in that figure in coming years, but there’s no doubt that our lifestyle choices will also have an impact on that bottom line.

So what’s the answer? The easy one is that everybody should just get serious about their health. Human nature being what it is, though, that’s not entirely realistic. Like most, I struggle with staying active and eating well – the temptations and excuses are pretty easy to come by and, I confess, pretty attractive, especially in these cold and grey winter months.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama has made healthy eating and reducing child obesity a cornerstone of her agenda, working to both raise awareness and find solutions. Wal-Mart announced last week that it was strengthening its focus on healthy eating by making thousands of its store brand packaged food products lower in unhealthy salts, fats and sugars. There are others making similar pledges, but given Wal-Mart’s size and clout in the marketplace, their actions have the potential to drive broader change.

Wal-Mart has also committed to trying to make fruits and vegetables more affordable and claiming they’ll do that without lowering the prices they pay farmers. How true that statement is, and what impact this new policy will have on farmers, remains to be seen. It’s my hope Wal-Mart will also place value on supporting and sustaining Canadian farmers and not just on achieving the lowest price. In my mind, our ability to grow and sell food locally is an important piece of the bigger healthy eating puzzle.

Another shining star is the Northern Ontario school snack program, a great example of trying to change life-long behaviours. This marks the fifth year of a partnership between Ontario’s horticulture farmers, the provincial government and local health units to bring healthy fruit and vegetable snacks to school children in Northern Ontario.

Approximately 19,000 students receive two servings of fruits and vegetables a week for the 19-week duration of the program with the goal of teaching kids an appreciation for produce and helping them learn how to make life-long healthy eating choices.

It would be great if this program was expanded across the province. All kids in Ontario could benefit from some early education and experience in healthy eating. It took us several generations to get to our current sedentary lifestyles and not-so-wonderful eating habits, and it won’t be easy to reverse those trends. But we owe it to ourselves and our future generations to try – and maybe one day we’ll get better at sticking to those new year’s resolutions.

This editorial was first printed in the Guelph Mercury on January 27, 2011.

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