YMCA gives youth skinny on getting fit

By Mark Masters

Centretown is on the frontlines of Canada’s war against child obesity and ground zero is the YMCA on Argyle Avenue.

A new program launched at the YMCA in October to combat the problem is “unique to Canada,” according to the co-ordinator.

More than 25 per cent of young Canadians are overweight, says a Statistics Canada study, and the number is three times higher than it was 15 years ago.

“It’s a starting point for kids who want to start heading in the right direction,” says Rob Pozeg, who oversees the Kids Fit program.

“There is nothing like this in Ontario or even the rest of Canada.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion teamed up with the Community Foundation of Ottawa to help fund the $60,000 project.

The money allowed the YMCA to purchase machines geared for children, including a climbing wall and a dancing video game. But what makes the program different is the discussion groups both the children and their parents go through separately each week to talk with experts about topics like nutrition and self-esteem.

Donna MacIntyre’s family is one of eight to enrol in the program.

She says her son, Angus, 8, will run home from school eager to go to the YMCA.

The clearest sign the twice weekly program is working is the response from the kids, she says.

“There was going to be a session on Halloween so the kids had a vote about whether to cancel it and they decided they didn’t want to,” says MacIntyre. “And he was really excited about his costume and everything. I think that says a lot.”

MacIntyre said it made a difference having some of the cost subsidized, as she could not have afforded the $185 registration fee.

The current fee doesn’t even cover the costs of the program and as a result it may increase next year when the government grant runs out, says Pozeg.

Meanwhile, the federal government is set to introduce legislation offering a tax credit to parents who enrol their children in programs like the one at the Argyle Avenue YMCA.

Dr. Kellie Leitch, head of pediatric surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Western Ontario, says the tax credit would make Canada a world leader in combating child obesity. Leitch chaired a government-appointed panel that recommended implementation of a tax credit in a report released Oct. 26.

“Most parents want their children to get out there and be active,” says Leitch.

“This provides most Canadians across the country with a little bit extra in order to do this.”

However, the federal opposition is attacking the proposal, which would cost the public purse around $160 million a year.

Ruby Dhalla, the Liberal health critic, released a statement saying the tax credit would only help those parents who can already afford the fees.

The Liberals argue that poverty is the root cause of child obesity and the government should invest in infrastructure rather than a tax credit.

Both Pozeg and MacIntyre say they prefer to stay out of the political side of the issue. Instead, they want to focus on the bigger picture.

“Kids are our future,” says MacIntyre. “If we have all these kids living a more healthy lifestyle then in the long run they will be healthier people and there will be less sickness. I’m not political but any help at a government level is good.”