Wednesday, October 11, 2006

We've decide to deny some children healthy food

VICTORIA - It's alarming to think that we're spending $1.8 billion a year in B.C. on avoidable health-care costs.
But that's one of the findings in the latest annual report from provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall, which this year looks at "Food, Health and Well-Being in B.C."
As the conversation on health care starts it's worth noting that we'd spend up to 15 per cent less on health - enough for an annual $1,800 tax cut for a family of four - if we ate smarter, exercised a little more and didn't smoke.
It raises, among other things, some obvious questions about how serious we are about the costs of health care, or our health in general. The study reports that 24 per cent of Canadians were overweight or obese in 2004, up from 14 per cent in 1979. The percentage of children and youth who are obese or overweight has taken the same leap. (Don't take this as preachy. My diet and exercise habits are mediocre to wretched.)
Our bad habits are harmful for us and costly for society. People know about the risk of diabetes and heart disease. But the report notes that research shows that diet plays a role in about 30 per cent of cancer cases. Eat more fruits and vegetables and your risk falls.
Which all points to the value of the government's effort to promote healthier choices.
My poor choices are just that - choices.
But the report included an alarming reminder of how many British Columbians, especially children, have no option. It's impossible for their parents to feed them adequately, because they don't have enough money.
Forest Minister Rich Coleman put the problem bluntly this month when he announced the government's new housing subsidies for up to 15,000 working poor families. Children in B.C. are suffering from malnutrition because their parents can't afford food, he said. They are falling behind in school and failing to gain needed literacy skills. Inadequate nutrition is condemning them to a life of disadvantage and ill health, while creating avoidable future costs. Leaving aside the morality of letting kids go hungry, it simply makes business sense to look after them now and avoid all the future costs that will be consequences of their malnutrition.
The health officer's report found that in 2001 about 15 per cent of British Columbians worried about not being able to afford adequate food. “In B.C. child poverty diminished in the late 1990s and then rose from 2002 to 2005,” the report notes. About 25 per cent of children lived in poverty in 2005.
Many of those children were in homes where parents were working, but not earning enough to provide adequate food.
Many others lived with parents on welfare. Their poverty was based on decisions government made on your behalf.
The health report noted B.C.’s welfare rates were the second lowest in Canada in 2004. Once inflation is stripped out, people on welfare are getting 15 per cent less than they did 10 years ago.
That's not enough to feed their children properly, the health officer's report found. A single parent with two children on welfare gets about $1,450 a month, counting federal credits and all the rest. Look around your community and figure what they would have to pay in rent.
By my count, they would have about $650 left each month for everything else - food, bus passes, a phone, clothes, school fees.
But the report sets the basic cost of feeding a family of three at $477 a month. That would leave $40 a week for everything other than food and rent for three people.
Impossible, of course, so - as Coleman observed - children suffer.
For some, the deprivation is brief. Their parent finds work, the ideal outcome, and life changes.
But for disabled parents or families with very young children or "barriers to employment," the inadequate nutrition can last through childhood.
As the health officer's report reminds us, that will cost us all, for decades to come.
Footnote: Food matters. The report notes that children in "food insufficient households" are more than twice as likely to have asthma and that inadequate childhood nutritition can cause permanent cognitive damage, limiting the child's ability to learn. Inadequate nutrition for teens is linked to depression and suicidal tendencies. The full report can be found at


Anonymous said...

If we declared that kids were part of the Olympic budget, heck there would be tons of money. Maybe we could set up a web site and the governemnt could have a discussion with the kids and whomever tries to keep them fed , clothed and hopefully in school. Maybe adopt them like the white bears. It isn't a flashy enough issue for this present government.

Jonathan Siberry said...

I live in England and the situation is just as bad.

Currently we rely on Jamie Oliver to sort out our school dinners, if he didn't nothing would be done.

Over in England the north east has been claimed the most obese and unhealthy.

It also comes down to money in England and the schools have very little budget to feed the children, thus processed food such as turkey twislers to our children.

It is ok for politicians to get expensive flights and hotels with our tax money, yet we cannot give our children healthy foods.

Jonathan (spare car parts manager at CarSpareFinder)

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