The Doctor says …there’s more we can do to #MakeBCHealthier4Kids

Children at Play

Two weeks ago, Dr Perry Kendall, BC’s ‘top doc’ (as the media commonly refer to our Provincial Health Officer) gave the children of BC a little check-up and it turns out their health is just fine…well, kind of.  On average, BC’s children and youth appear to be fairly healthy in some ways but others are less so.

The report, ‘Is Good, Good Enough? The Health and Well-being of Children & Youth in BC’, measures 51 indicators in five dimensions that cover: Physical Health and Well-being, Mental and Emotional Health and Well-being, Social Relationships, Economic and Material Well-being and Cognitive Development.

The good news is that slightly more kids are eating fruit and vegetables from the last survey – and this can be taken as a stand-in measure for healthy eating habits generally.  On average 94% said they ate fruit and or veggies the day before.  However, there’s a large gap depending on where you live in the province – it’s nearly 97% in the North Shore/Coast Garibaldi area but only 89% in the Northwest.

But far worst, is that 7% of children and youth BC reported going to bed hungry.  Again, this is a more acute problem in the Northwest and Northeast of the province where over 10% of children go hungry at night.  This is very likely more to do with poverty than food, and in that regard BC is falling behind.  The report says, “since 2000, in every year except 2008, BC has had a higher percentage of persons under age 18 living in low-income households than the overall Canadian percentage.”

The graphs are almost flipped when looking at physical activity rates across the province – children and youth in the North, Interior and Vancouver Island report being more active than those living in the lower mainland.  For example, in Richmond only 11% of kids said they were active the previous week compared to double that in the Northern Interior where 21% reported being active. Still, nearly 80% of children in BC, are not getting the recommended daily dose of physical activity.

On the tobacco front, it’s encouraging to see the levels continue to drop – in the decade between 2003 – 2013, the number of daily smokers in grades seven to twelve went down by half.  Today 1.8% of kids are regular smokers, but that average masks regional differences.  In the lower mainland, it’s less than 1% but in the Interior and Northern BC three times more youth are smoking regularly. We can only hope that this number will continue to decline and that the growth of e-cigarettes won’t result in growing numbers of young smokers.

In terms of mental health and social well-being, 80% rate their mental wellbeing as good but girls (71%) much less than boys (89%). Unfortunately, 10% of BC children and youth still face discrimination based on race, ethnicity or skin colour and 4% based on sexual orientation.   Seven out of ten feel a sense of connectedness with their school – meaning it’s a place where they feel included, engaged and generally happy about.

BCAHL has written our own prescription to #MakeBCHealthier4Kids.  This covers much of the same territory as the Provincial Health Officer but suggests specific ways the BC Government can start to bridge the gaps in health, such as:

  • Supporting programs and agencies that make our communities more inclusive and socially connected
  • Increasing community based child and youth mental health care.
  • Investing in recreation facilities and supporting more greenspace and parks
  • Encouraging walking, biking and transit with policy and financial support for and ‘Active Transportation Strategy’ and transit growth plans.
  • Providing healthier food choices in schools, recreation centres, daycares and other public buildings where children gather to play and learn
  • Increasing affordable housing options
  • Creating more affordable childcare spaces
  • Working towards a ‘Provincial Poverty Reduction Strategy’

From the Provincial Health Officer’s report we can see that we are making progress but progress takes time – clearly, there is more we can do to #MakeBCealthier4Kids.

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