Sprawl

A Growing Problem

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 07, 2005

The Toronto Star has been running articles this week on childhood obesity in response to a new report from the Ontario Medical Association. A report on October 5 began:

An epidemic of childhood obesity may lead to the first generation of children who will not live as long as their parents, Ontario's doctors warn.

Poor food choices, overeating and lack of physical activity doubled the rates of overweight and obese children in Canada in 15 years, to almost one-third of boys and one-quarter of girls, says a report by the Ontario Medical Association released yesterday.

The OMA report challenged the provincial government to mandate an hour a day of aerobic exercise in schools and to restrict access to and advertising for junk food for children.

For the first time, children are at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, chronic illnesses that previously affected primarily the elderly.

In a law just passed recently, Ontario schools are required to provide 20 minutes of exercise a day in elementary schools. It's already proving to be difficult to implement, not least because 70 percent of primary schools no longer have a phys-ed teacher.

Richard Ward, health and physical education coordinator for the Toronto District School Board, questioned whether it will be possible to increase that to an hour a day. "With the new curriculum, it's very difficult to meet all the expectations in 300 minutes a day."

Ward has a point. Joel Hirschhorn, author of Sprawl Kills, draws a distinction between exercise and what he calls "active living". Exercise is physical activity for its own sake, and must somehow be squeezed into an already-busy day. Active living, by contrast, is physical activity that is incorporated into daily life so it cannot be crowded out.

Active living for children includes walking to school, playing outside on the street instead of watching TV inside, walking to the library, riding a bike to the store, and so on.

Children are obese because they no longer do these things. Instead, their parents drive them everywhere. The single most important reason children are less active is that they are living in sprawl: the suburban built environment is extremely hostile to healthy childhood development.

Until and unless we address sprawl in a systematic way, no amount of forced "replacement therapy" for lives stripped of activity is going to do justice to our children's developmental needs.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

1 Comment

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By karate_mike@yahoo.com (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2006 at 23:00:12

I think the exercise program recently passed into law requiring elementary school children to cardiovascular exercise 20 minutes per day is absolutley fantastic, in it's place. I think it's absolutely ridiculous to mandate a teacher to provide 20 minutes of exercise IN THE CLASSROOM, with both students and teachers wearing street clothes, street shoes and working in a very unsafe environment for exercise. The classroom is designed for quiet controled intellectual learning. The gymnasium is designed for physical activity.

Many school require uniforms, and now the students are required to work up a sweat on a daily basis and WEAR THOSE CLOTHES for the rest of the day? Many students come from not-so-wealthy backgrounds and can't afford more than one uniform. The teachers are required to attend work dressed professionally. Shirt and tie, or silk blouses aren't congruent to cardiovasular workouts!! Not to menation this is an accident screaming to happen! Not to mention the stink it's going to raise. Literally. Elementary school children aren't the most hygenic creatures on the planet. You take a bunch of grade 7 students passing through puberty and work them up into a good sweat in a classroom?? Who passed this law? Definitely not someone that has to sit in said classromm for the rest of the day. I pray that no one gets hurt while doing their 20 minute cardio workout amongst chairs and desks. I guess next it will be mandated that all civil servants must JOG to work, no slowing down... Oh, and the Lawmakers, they'll be required to SPRINT their fat asses the entire way! Lead by example folks. And McGuinty.... it's a long crawl my friend.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds