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April 25, 2007
By Patrick Sullivan
Growing concern about the way Canada is failing in terms of child-health indicators and the health and social issues affecting children has led three major Canadian medical organizations to organize a one-day summit meeting to set priorities.
“The ultimate goal is simple,” says Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai, immediate past president of the CMA and one of the summit’s co-chairs. “In five years, we want Canada to rank among the top five countries for all child-health indicators.”
The Apr. 26 meeting is bringing members of the CMA, Canadian Paediatric Society and College of Family Physicians of Canada together with representatives from the business, research, political and Aboriginal communities. There will be several keynote speakers, including Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, England’s commissioner for children, and Tony Clement, the federal minister of health.Collins-Nakai says there is an urgent need for action. “The simple truth is that Canada is falling behind in many areas,” she said. “These issues should concern all of us – not just physicians.”
Data collected for the summit indicate:
- Childhood obesity is causing growing concern, with 19.3% of Canadian youth aged 10 to 16 considered overweight. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), this ranks Canada 19th out of 20 countries surveyed. Statistics Canada data from 2004 indicate that 26% of Canadians aged 2 to 17 are either overweight or obese.
- The OECD ranks Canada last among 14 countries in terms of spending on early childhood education and care.
- Canada’s suicide rate for children places it 22nd among 29 OECD countries.
- Canada’s infant mortality rate fell by 22% between 1990 and 2003, but it has now stalled while it continues to fall elsewhere. (During the same period, Sweden’s infant mortality rate fell by 48%.) From 1990 to 2003, Canada’s rank within OECD countries fell from sixth to 21st place among 29 industrialized countries.
“It is clear we can do better,” Collins-Nakai said, “and doing better is the goal of the summit.”
Action will be sought on several fronts, such as pushing for the creation of a “children’s charter.” Other goals include:
- making children’s health a priority by creating a post for a commissioner for children, who would be appointed by and report to Parliament, and a permanent Office for Children’s Health;
- addressing Aboriginal child-health issues;
- developing a national child-health strategy;
- creating an integrated children’s health research strategy and annual report card on children’s health.
Other speakers include MP Rob Merrifield, who chairs the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, and Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
“It is clear that we can’t meet the summit goals on our own,” said Collins-Nakai. “We need a groundswell of support and pressure if we are to create the political will to actually make our children a priority in Canada.”
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