Join the Wellness Movement: The Ball Is in Your Court!

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Monday the 12th of September was the official launch date for the new NB government Join the Wellness Movement: The Ball is in Your Court initiative. This new initiative is simple: it urges NBers to get things started in their community by organizing wellness activities or making wellness commitments (pertaining to physical activity, healthy eating, mental fitness or tobacco-free living) with a community group, school, or workplace. NBers can register their wellness commitments online at http://wellness.m5i.com/ and have the chance to win small individual prizes or group prizes of $500 to $1000 for use for future wellness initiatives. To support The Ball is in Your Court, as a Southeast NB In Motion Youth Ambassador, I attended the launch last week and was subsequently interviewed by a few people.

One question that came up each time I was interviewed was ”Do you think youth today aren’t healthy or don’t care about health?”.  This question was a tricky one to answer and I think that my answers to it probably plunged listeners and readers into confusion. Therefore, please allow me to clarify.
If I were to say that other youth today aren’t healthy or don’t care about their health, I wouldn’t be doing justice to the many people I know who go out of their way to keep in shape and eat well. I wouldn’t be acknowledging the improved health and wellness education in schools and thus greater awareness among teens about health and wellness. Increased awareness about health and wellness is something we Millenials have, at least it seems so when I compare my childhood to what my parents tell me about their childhoods.
On the other hand, it can’t be ignored that although today people may be more aware that poor lifestyle choices can have consequences on health, many aren’t eating better or being more active than before–quite the contrary. Data shows that the majority of NB youth aren’t physically active for a minimum of sixty minutes a day. Smoking has dropped, but in NB, it nevertheless has a prevalence rate of about 20%. NB teens report eating diets that don’t quite resemble the Canada Food Guide– soft drinks and little fruit and veggie servings.   This harsh reality makes it difficult to believe that teens are aware and care about their health. However, I don’t think it is fair to blame youth for their unhealthy habits.
Things are different now than they were a few decades ago. When my parents were growing up, kids didn’t bike or walk to school to get more exercise, they did it because it was transportation. They didn’t go swimming and play street hockey to get their heart rate going either– they did it because it was a good way to have fun with friends at a time when TV shows were played once a week and video games were non-existent. Kids of my parents’ generation were active not because they were aware of the benefits of physical activity or because they prioritized their health– they were because our society at the time incorporated physical activity into kids’ daily routines.
Flashforward to now– not being physically active enough is the norm. Kids are driven or bused to school, even if they live within a few kilometres of it. Afterschool, those that don’t play organized sports typically head indoors to play video games, surf the net, chat with friends online, or watch TV. In my opinion, the problem isn’t that these kids are less concerned about their health, but that our society has shifted towards a sedentary lifestyle norm and our culture still dictates that kids shouldn’t be overly preoccupied with their health because that isn’t appropriate for young people.
In some families today (e.g. my own), kids are held responsible for not moving enough and not eating well enough and are taught that if extra effort and self-discipline is what it takes to counterbalance a sedentary modern society, then so be it.  However, in many families, it is believed that kids should be kids and not worry about anything– especially not something like health, which young people are supposed to be overflowing with. Studies have shown that parents often have a skewed view of their children’s heavier weights (a typical consequence of less physical activity and unnutritious food choices), believing their children are slimmer than they really are, and that being overweight or obese is reserved for”lazy” people who don’t do much (unfortunately, a common stereotype that doesn’t have any grounding–plenty of normal weight people today move much less than they should and ”fat but fit” exists).
What to do about this? In my opinion, it will be necessary to change the way our culture perceives youth and health. Some people seem to already prioritize health, but others have health and wellness far down on the list of priorities. I think it is also necessary to, as a society, modify our way of functioning so that certain habits (e.g. taking the car everywhere, eating big portions, etc.) become impractical to practice, like they once were.
Souces:
http://www.nbhc.ca/communities_map_youth.cfm
http://www.activehealthykids.ca/
http://www.gnb.ca/0131/healthy-nb-en_sante/tobacco_reduction-e.asp
Originally published in the Times & Transcript on September 24th, 2011.
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