As kids headed back to school this month, we all learned the news, from a new report by Children First Canada, that Canada’s children aren’t well. Newfoundland & Labrador’s situation is grim, by certain measures.

For instance, 27.9% of children between 12-17 are overweight or obese. That’s more than 1 in 4 kids.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, we top that national average, with 36.4% of children classified as overweight or obese, according to Statistics Canada. That’s more than 1 in 3 kids in our province.

Obesity has dramatically increased in our country and province since the late 1970s.

Stats Contradict Sentiment That This Country is a Great Place to be a Child

“Many Canadians think this is one of the best countries in the world to raise a child, but the statistics prove otherwise,” says said Sara Austin, founder and Lead Director of Children First Canada.

She says that, while Canada is the 5th most prosperous country in the world, we are ranked 25th out of 41 affluent nations for our children’s wellbeing according to UNICEF, and we drop to the bottom ranks for key measures on children’s health and safety as well as child poverty.

The report, titled “Raising Canada,” was produced by the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, and came with a Call to Action signed by leaders of children’s charities and hospitals nationwide. It used statistics from various sources, including Statistics Canada, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), the Canadian Institute of Child Health (CICH), Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

The press release for the report declares that the study “highlights deeply worrisome statistics that require immediate action, including staggeringly high rates of mental health issues, poverty, obesity and mortality.”

A few more findings from the report include:

  • Only 35% kids aged 5-17 are getting the daily recommended guidelines for physical activity.
  • 1.2 million children live in low-income housing.
  • 10.7% of families with children under 6 years of age say they experience food insecurity.
  • 25% of children have not received the full 4 recommended doses of diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus vaccine by age 2.
  • 1 in 3 Canadians report having suffered some form of child abuse before the age of 16.

What Do the Kids Want?

According Children First Canada’s ‘The Kids Are Not All Right’ national survey, Canadian children ranked mental health and bullying, along with better support for children living in poverty, as their top concerns. According to the study’s sources, The prevalence of mental health disorders in children and youth has remained the same since 2006-07, despite the increased spotlight on the issue.

Many also identify with feeling unfit and overweight. Sara Kirk, a professor of health performance at Dalhousie University, and a Canada Research Chair, told CBC NL this week, that our society fosters an environment that breeds these conditions for children: We surround kids with poor food choices and less access to physical activity; we drive places we should walk to, we eat processed convenience foods, over whole, natural foods; and we wonder why we’re in an epidemic of weight-driven health issues.

Report Deemed a Call to Action for All Levels of Government

Children First Canada positions the report as a call to action for the federal government, and provincial and municipal leaders, to do more to invest in the health and wellbeing of Canada’s children. Among the report’s recommendations:

  • The establishment of a national Commission for Children and Youth: an independent government office to promote the best interests of children and hold government accountable.
  • The implementation of a children’s budget to track national investment in children, ensure the equitable distribution of resources, while ensuring funds are allocated towards evidence-based solutions for children.
  • The full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Canadian Children’s Charter.

The Canadian Children’s Charter is a document drafted by Children First Canada with input from thousands of children and youth from across the country. The document lays a roadmap for Canada “to become a world-leading country for kids, calling for urgent action to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of every child in Canada.”