Letnick: Kelowna sets healthy living example for Canadians

Yet another national study of our healthy (or not-so-healthy) habits lauds British Columbians for our efforts to keep fit and get our daily dose of fruits and vegetables. But what’s interesting about this latest survey by Statistics Canada is its particular focus on Kelowna.

New numbers released in May singled out Kelowna for having the lowest rate of obesity in the country, well below the national average of 24.8 per cent. Here’s how we stacked up against other cities:

Kelowna, 17.0 per cent

Vancouver, 17.4 per cent

Victoria, 19.6 per cent

Toronto, 20.2 per cent

Québec, 20.9 per cent

Montréal, 21.5 per cent.

In comparison, obesity levels tended to be higher than the national average in the Atlantic provinces and in northern and southwestern Ontario:

Saint John, NB, 38.1 per cent

Greater Sudbury, 33.8 per cent

St. John’s, Nfld., 33.2 per cent

Brantford, 32.1 per cent

Hamilton, 31.3 per cent

Saskatoon, 31.3 per cent

Thunder Bay, Ontario, 30.7 per cent.

It should be noted that StatsCan determines obesity using the body mass index (BMI), which is a relative measure of weight and height. BMI can be computed using self-reported values, where the respondent is asked their height and weight, or by directly measuring respondents’ height and weight. Having a BMI of more than 30 deems one ‘obese.’

Kelowna residents can take pride in the fact they are well below the national average when it comes to obesity. Maybe it’s the sunshine we enjoy in abundance, which keeps off the couch and active in our community. Perhaps it’s an increased interest in nutrition, and the careful observation of food labels. Or maybe it’s the easy access to delicious Okanagan fruits and vegetables, which I may be biased in touting as our province’s Agriculture Minister!

But while we’ve been recognized as a Canadian leader in health and wellness, we can and must do more. Chronic disease is the largest contributor to B.C.’s health care costs. Here’s some food for thought: If every British Columbian had a healthy weight, was physically active and didn’t smoke, the Province could avoid more than $3.8 billion in economic and health care costs each year.

Smoking and obesity are the highest preventable causes of death among British Columbians. We must continue to address these issues because left unchecked, our younger generations are in danger of being the first to live shorter lives than their parents.

It’s critically important that all of us make healthier choices, and our government is committed to making those choices easier. Our $68.7 million Healthy Families B.C. strategy focuses on improving the health and wellness of British Columbians through programs which aim to decrease tobacco use, increase opportunities for physical activity, support healthy eating, and promote healthy weights.

The Healthy Families B.C. website is a fantastic source of information for those looking to make positive lifestyle changes. From lessons on ‘Sodium 101’ to tips on how to make better selections at the grocery store, there are many helpful tools to be found at www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca.

You’ll also details about our Informed Dining program, which gives restaurant patrons the nutrition information they need to make informed choices when dining out. You can find a list of participating restaurants on the website, or look for the Informed Dining logo inside these restaurants.

We are also investing in various programs that increase access to healthy foods. Examples include the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program, which provides lower-income families, pregnant women and seniors with coupons for locally-produced food; the School Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition Program, which provides fresh fruits or vegetable snacks to schools every other week; the Food Systems in Remote First Nations Project, which helps remote First Nations grow community gardens; and Food Skills for Families, a hands-on program with the Canadian Diabetes Association that teaches healthy eating, shopping and cooking.

While we can take pride in our collective efforts here in B.C. and particularly in Kelowna, I leave you with a troubling statistic: The number of obese Canadians has risen 17.5 per cent since 2003. That’s a staggering number. Today, one in four Canadians is overweight.

Let’s continue to buck this trend, and set the example for our friends and neighbours across the country. Keep up the good work, Kelowna.

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