London Community Foundation Responds to Rising Obesity Rates Across Canada

Oct. 13, 2011

When London Community Foundation released the 2010 Vital Signs ® report, one of the main issue areas focused on was the environment. Clean air and a healthy environment are crucial to a healthy community, and we’ve been working on environmental issues through our grant programs and partnerships with local organizations.

Earlier this month, Community Foundations of Canada released their 2011 national Vital Signs ® report, along with 22 other community foundations across Canada. The alarming prevalence of obesity across Canada is one of the critical issues that many community organizations highlighted in their reports. Directly related to a healthy environment, current statistics show that obesity in Canada is on the rise. Approximately 26% of children aged 2-17 are currently overweight or obese – a rate that has more than doubled since 1978. *

London Community Foundation is proud to support one of the key players working to reverse this trend – Dr. Jason Gilliland. There is very little research on the prevalence of childhood obesity and its causes in London-Middlesex, but according to Dr. Gilliland, current research (2011) suggests that up to 38% of children aged 2-17 years in London-Middlesex are overweight or obese.

Dr. Gilliland is a professor of Geography, Health Sciences and Paediatrics at the University of Western Ontario; a Scientist with the Children’s Health Research Institute in London; and a volunteer with London Community Foundation. He has spent the last six years researching the links between community design and childhood obesity in London. His research began with a grant of $9,500 from London Community Foundation to assess the quality of parks and play spaces for children in the city. The findings provided municipal officials and park designers with information on how best to target resources in order to help children become more physically active, thereby combating childhood obesity. Childhood obesity has been linked to major physical health problems as well as socio-psychological problems such as bullying and depression. Furthermore, obesity costs the Canadian economy several billions of dollars a year in direct and indirect costs. Dr. Gilliland’s research team has recently launched the full-fledged Spatial Temporal Environmental and Activity Monitoring Project (STEAM II), focusing on environmental impacts that affect critical children’s health issues. The team’s belief is that the design of Canadian communities today relies heavily on automobiles, thereby restricting opportunities for physical activity from walking. This may be partly to blame for the rise in childhood obesity rates.

Dr. Gilliland’s colleagues Janet Loebach and Sarah McCans are also working to enhance the local environment for children. Together, with the support of numerous local organizations, they are creating a project to green the spaces of elementary schools, simultaneously promoting outdoor spaces, cleaning the air, and encouraging children to become more active. Loebach and McCans will compete with four other finalists for a $100,000 grant in London Community Foundation’s upcoming Clean Air Challenge on October 19th. The process of greening these spaces will be embedded into the curriculum and students will be active participants in the projects.

Combating childhood obesity is a vital part of ensuring that London-Middlesex is a healthy and vibrant community in which to live, learn, and play. Through our granting programs and leadership, London Community Foundation will continue to support community members and organizations working on the many crucial issues outlined in our Vital Signs report.

 * 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey; 1978/79 Canada Health Survey.