Niagara Voices column, St Catharines Standard
The world revolves around me. No: I make the world go around.
With every step I take on my morning runs, I imagine I turn the world on its axis that little bit.
(Yes, that nagging feeling you’ve been having was right: the world has been standing still for a few days now, thanks to the cold, the ice, the snow, and the treadmill at the gym I’ve joined.)
Obviously my movement may not directly affect the world around me, but it does affect my view of the world, my behaviour within it, my interaction with everything. This, of course, is true for everyone, and applies exponentially to the world around us.
And move your kids, and other peoples’ kids, and kids everywhere. There is no excuse for an obese child, and yet 25% of our kids are just that. That’s obese, as in grossly overweight. Health measurements in the obesity category start at ‘high risk’ and go up to ‘extremely high risk.’ Ignore your own health: that’s your problem. But ignoring the health of a child, who relies on you for pretty much everything, is a crime. Or should be: Murder by slow, sad increments.
I can’t even begin to address the diet issue, so deeply is it enmeshed with the acceptance of junk food; schools serving inedible, indigestible stuff in the cafeterias, while being subsidised by pop and candy machines in the hallways; and the processed, unhealthy diet of the average family.
But I can talk action.
As a kid I was an Olympic gymnast, dancer, skater, swimmer, equestrian, runner (sprint and marathon). I was a Russian ballerina. I joined the circus as an acrobat, juggler and stunt-rider. How can we deny our children these dreams and more like them? Do today’s kids fantasise about being computer programmers? Wii game inventors? Coronary patients?
One of the saddest things I have ever heard was said by Denis Cahill, a staff photographer at this paper. He told a group of us how hard it is to find kids playing outside. Summer or winter, they’re locked up in the ’safety’ of their homes, or off at some complicated extracurricular activity. As someone whose entire childhood seemed to take place in the great outdoors, I found that utterly tragic. Those empty streets are a testament to how far we’ve come--away from ourselves. From our nature. From nature itself.
An acquaintance told me about a programme created to introduce children to nature, thinking we might want to inculcate our little Hazel. I had to laugh: She’s not even two yet, and we can barely move quickly enough to get a coat and hat on her before she runs out the door, front or back, garden or street: Outside. She picks all manner of berries, studies birds, feeds squirrels, walks for miles just to walk, just to see what’s out there.
In a culture that thinks sidewalks are a curse and cars are legs, how do we teach kids to move? Action. We have to move, and we have to get the systems around us moving.
Here in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the same people who fight tooth and nail against sidewalks are demanding a walking/running track at our pie-in-the-sky imaginary new community centre. Our miles and miles of paved riverside paths attract tourists but are ignored by locals who want to mall-walk closer to home. What are kids learning here? That the arena and the soccer pitches are the only places to move?
London, Ontario has just joined an incredibly exciting Canada-wide programme called in motion: “A community-based approach to encourage increased physical activity levels. [It] is a comprehensive approach that uses public awareness, education and motivation strategies in combination with target audience strategies and constant evaluation to reach all corners of the community.” Several other cities and regions have already joined up, and it’s easy to see why: It’s a no-brainer, of benefit to all. Who could fight the idea of more movement, better health, more happiness for everyone? This is a fun, clever, ready-to-implement, right-out-of-the-box programme. There is a winter pedometer challenge, and lots of other community-wide events. How do we get the Niagara region involved?
Or, if it’s not this programme, what is it? Is there a person in any level of local government whose job is to keep us healthy? Wait a second: what did I just ask? Are we not even capable of managing our own personal health without legislation? Apparently not.
In England, where the obesity numbers are considerably lower than ours, they are dealing with one prong of this problem in the schools: Kids are going to be taught how to prepare healthy food. Why they aren’t learning this at home, I don’t know, but kudos to the school system for taking a preventative stance.
Let’s not wait until health itself is legislated, and we are forced to prove our daily caloric intake and perform so many hours of activity per week. Let’s move ourselves, move our communities, and move our kids. Participaction has some good community support and information; in motion has some great inspiration and ideas, even if we don’t sign on; or perhaps your newly-struck Community Health Committee will put energy, confidence, vitality and curiosity back into our kids’—and our own—lives.