Kids Get Poor Marks on Foundation Health Survey

TORONTO, ONTARIO: The Heart and Stroke Foundation reports that Canadian children aged 6 to 12 barely get a passing grade when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle. In the first-ever Heart and Stroke Report Card on the Health of Canadas Kids released today, youngsters received some very poor marks, especially in daily nutrition and exposure to second-hand smoke at home.

"Unless there are significant and swift changes to these crucial determinants of health, these youngsters will have formed habits that will be difficult to change and that put them at high risk for risk for cardiovascular and other diseases," says Heart and Stroke Foundation medical advisor, Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai.

Proportion of
Canadian Children Who:



Eat recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables



Eat predominantly whole grain breads and cereals



Eat junk food no more than three times per week



Are physically active



Are not exposed to second-hand smoke at home*



Results are considered accurate to within 4.8% 19 times out of 20.

*These findings utilized a different methodology.

According to the Foundations new report card, children received the worst grades in nutrition. Only one out of five (20%) eats the recommended daily minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables. White bread and presweetened cereals remain popular choices among most children, with only 28% of respondents choosing more nutritious alternatives such as high-fiber bread, and whole grain and unsweetened cereals.

Childrens eating habits are only somewhat better in the junk food department. The survey found that 60% of the sample eat junk food such as potato chips and candy fewer than three times a week, although some children eat these foods every single day. If kids fill up on fat-rich calories, they may not have much room left for more nutritious foods that contain the vitamins and minerals so essential at this stage of life.

But, it was in the area of exposure to second-hand smoke that most concerned Foundation officials. Approximately half of Canadian children are exposed to second-hand smoke at home, by their own parents and visitors. The Foundation believes that any exposure to second-hand smoke is unacceptable, especially since this means subjecting children to over 4,000 chemicals, many of which are known to be harmful to humans.

"It is simply unacceptable that parents are still subjecting one of the most vulnerable segments of the population our children to the devastating effects of second-hand tobacco smoke," says Dr. Anthony Graham, a Foundation spokesperson and a practicing cardiologist .

In addition, these youngsters are learning by example to take up smoking when they reach their teenage years. Children whose parents smoke are twice as likely to become regular smokers themselves. Even among children as young as 6-12, 7% have already tried cigarettes. By age 15-19, 29% of Canadian teens are smoking regularly.

Getting children to adopt positive lifestyle habits early on gives them the best chance at a healthy adult life. "Childhood is the time during which people develop habits that, in many cases, last a lifetime," says Dr. Graham. "The best way to prevent heart disease and stroke is not to make huge lifestyle changes when youre in your fifties and have already had a heart disease and stroke is not to make huge lifestyle changes when youre in your fifties and have already had a heart attack , but to incorporate healthy, heart-smart habits into your daily routine at an early age. It was shocking to find out that so few young Canadians are being provided with the basics of heart-healthy living on a daily basis."

Part of that recipe for healthy living is physical activity. Here again, the Foundation found that Canadian children are missing the boat. Only 63% of Canadian children in the study play actively with their friends three or more times a week. "The flip side to that is that 31% of Canadian kids almost one in three arent getting the activity they need to develop cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength and flexibility," says Dr. Collins-Nakai.

Instead of playing outside with their friends, learning important sports and fitness skills, these children appear to be sitting idly in front of the television set or playing video games. On average, Canadian children watch TV for 2.4 hours a day, which may not seem excessive until you consider these youngsters also spend six or so hours being sedentary at school.

The Foundation is concerned that if such childhood habits arent altered, youngsters will be headed for a decidedly unhealthy adulthood. Theres evidence that many bad habits only get worse with age. For example, being sedentary increases dramatically as kids enter their teen years, and the overweight child is at increased risk for obesity later in life. The exact rate of obesity, one of the key risk factors for risk factors for heart disease , is unknown among Canadian youngsters although experts estimate its 10-20%, and could be as high as 35%.

But there is some encouraging news. Some Canadian children are beginning to eat lower-fat dairy products. According to the survey, although about one-third of the children regularly consume whole milk, regular cheeses and ice cream, 67% eat at least some lower fat dairy products. The Foundation believes parents should begin to introduce lower-products to their children after the age of 2 years because of the documented health benefits.

Over 400 Canadian families from coast to coast were surveyed to get a snapshot of childhood eating habits and levels of physical activity. The Foundation used a variety of sources of information on smoking exposure and also amassed data from a number of other important studies to track trends on childrens health patterns in general.

To assist Canadian parents in improving the lifestyle and eating habits of their children, the Foundation has implemented a number of heart-smart programs. Its quiz for parents on their kids health appears in the March issue of Chatelaine magazine The Foundation produced The HeartSmart Shopper, a guide to healthy food alternatives, and is planning to launch an in-supermarket education program to help Canadians make healthy and affordable dietary choices. One of the Foundations most recent initiatives is the HeartSmart Family Fun Pack which incorporates games, tips and information for families on how to adopt a heart healthy lifestyle, including physical activity, proper nutrition and a tobacco-free environment. The Toronto Dominion Bank and Health Canada provided financial support for this Fun Pack project.

On the tobacco front, the Foundation has long been involved in efforts to create a smoke-free environment at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. It continues to lobby for tighter legislation governing smoking in public places such as restaurants, and to encourage a generation of smoke-free children. The Heart and Stroke Foundations mission is to further the study, prevention , and reduction of disability and death from heart disease and stroke through research, education and the promotion of healthy lifestyle.