OHS Canada Magazine

A recent article published in Toronto Star has raised alarm over the suspension of the physical-education program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. The article cited this development as part of a larger trend of universities moving away from such degrees — a trend reflected in elementary and secondary schools, where physical education is being crowded out.

Considering that one in four adults and one in 10 children in Canada have clinical obesity, according to figures from the Canadian Obesity Network, the concerns that the article highlighted are not unfounded. Grooming instructors who can impress upon the young the importance of being active cannot be underestimated. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workers, and a healthy workforce is the economic engine that fuels the growth of a country.

A paper entitled Obesity and the Workplace, published in the June 2011 issue of Occupational Medicine, describes obesity as a “global tsunami” that will demand increasing commitment from occupational health programs. Apart from the social and financial costs of reduced well-being and treating obesity-related diseases, the paper also cites workplace costs through decreased employee productivity and a heightened need for support services and disability management.
Rising obesity is a multifaceted problem that needs to be tackled from different angles, and offering programs on physical education is only one of them.

Lifestyle is a major contributing factor: the energy-expenditure level of modern living is vastly different from that of our predecessors in hunter-gatherer societies. The physical endeavour of obtaining food sources through hunting and engaging in agricultural activities in the past has been replaced by pushing a cart in an air-conditioned supermarket today. In caloric terms, compare expending, say 500 calories chasing down a deer or harvesting a crop versus 50 calories spent buying packaged meat or vegetables and carrying that to the car.

And then there is changing diet. Artery-blocking fast food, sugar-laden soft drinks and processed food laced with trans fat and hormone-disrupting phthalates used in manufacturing plastics and adhesives are, unfortunately, a part of modern diet, and the consequences are reflected in our waistlines. Besides major differences in how we obtain food sources, the modern knowledge economy has also given rise to largely sedentary workplaces. Cars and digital technology have further reduced the physical exertion in our daily lives.


Considering the above, rising obesity should come as no surprise. Educational institutions certainly play a role in promoting active living, but so does the family unit. Parents are often the best role models when it comes to educating
their children on the importance of staying active and eating healthfully.

Like a healthy diet, an active lifestyle is taught. But ultimately, committing to a lifestyle that incorporates physical activity has to come from the self. For me, that change came about six years ago, after I had two kids back to back. I realized that child caring is so strenuous that if I am not physically fit, it does not take much to hurt my back. So I joined a gym and made regular workouts a part of my life, and I have not looked back since.

We all have our reasons for living healthily. What’s yours?

Jean Lian


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