At a recent conference on health care innovation, speakers were less obsessed with how to make hospital CEOs do the jobs they are paid for and instead focused on what they call “upstream” expenditures as the key to reigning in expenditures.
The reality is most of our spending is on treatment, not prevention. The argument goes, if you spend on prevention, you save the downstream costs of treatment. However in every key opportunity, money spent on prevention is a tiny drop compared to the flow of funding into treatment.
Glenn Berill, Chief of Pediatrics at the North York General Hospital, told an April 26 Insight Conference that today’s younger generation will likely be the first to live shorter lives than their parents. Why? Canada is ranked fifth in the world for childhood obesity, a risk factor for heart disease, strokes, cancer, kidney failure, asthma, arthritis, blindness, mental health problems and falls.
Berill says the cost of obesity in Canada has been estimated to be $4.3 billion (2005 dollars), $1.8 billion in direct health care costs and $2.5 billion in indirect costs.
Instead of establishing a healthy lifestyle, by the time half of Canada’s children reach age 11, they will have had at least one dieting experience.
Berill made the case that we need to tackle the issue of obesity beyond the strict confines of the Ministry of Health. He points out that other jurisdictions have limited children’s food marketing, that school boards need to open up schoolyards past 4 pm and that city planners need to include sidewalks in new residential neighbourhoods to keep children physically active.
The North York doctor facetiously suggested that “turning off all electricity between 4 pm and 6 pm” would benefit North American children the most.
Part of the problem of dealing with the epidemic is that about a third of parents do not recognize obesity in their own children.
While Ontario has taken some steps to addressing the question, it is not nearly enough.
The problem continues to be super sized and is not just limited to children. At ages 40 to 69 years, the percentage of males and females whose waist circumference placed them at a high risk more than doubled between 1981 and 2007-09. At ages 20 to 39 years it quadrupled.
A few days after Berrill’s presentation, Active Health Kids Canada released a new report echoing his comments.
According to the report, less than half the children between the ages 1 and 5 are getting the necessary two hours of exercise they need each day for healthy growth and development. While Ontario licensed care providers must provide two hours of physical activity per day, babysitters and unlicensed children’s home care providers are not subject to those requirements.
The study also notes that in 1971 the average kid started watching TV at age four. Today it is five months.