COCHRANE: Fitness-for-youth plan great if it’s implemented
Here we go again.
That was my first thought when I heard Thursday that our provincial government plans to spend a couple of million dollars to help improve youth fitness and health.
The investment takes aim at childhood obesity and chronic disease, in large part through a series of activities designed to make kids healthier.
Many things are involved in fighting childhood obesity and chronic disease, so not all of the activities covered under this program are linked to physical fitness. Clearly, though, youth sports and fitness play key roles in the battle.
It sounds like a smart investment, one that covers a wide range of concerns and could improve life for kids here.
But we’ve heard of such plans in the past.
I’ve watched successive provincial governments fumble the youth fitness and health issue for far too many years to be won over by more government promises, even ones that emphasize all the right points.
In the 1990s, reams of data and Canadian studies showed how out of shape many of our kids were. They suggested that if the situation was left unchecked, the result would be a shorter lifespan for our kids and billions more dollars needed for the health-care system.
Back then, governments would toss a small amount of money at the problem or utter a few sympathetic words but it wasn’t taken all that seriously.
For example, in 2001, the province invested $500,000 in a program to create a fitness strategy for Nova Scotia, but who knows what became of that.
In the 2003 election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives’ election blue book talked about all kinds of innovative ways to improve youth fitness and health. Most of the ideas were sound and could have made a genuine difference, but they were never implemented.
In 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada gave the nation’s kids an F grade yet again in the physical activity department.
Despite repeated studies from all levels of government confirming the same facts, Nova Scotia still hasn’t got down to the crux of the problem.
If I sound frustrated, it’s because I am.
When I was talking to one government official Friday and criticizing past policy, her reply was: “What would you do?”
I have to admit that this most recent government strategy contains most of the measures I and many other youth fitness supporters have been advocating for 15 years or more.
First, there’s an emphasis on doing what’s necessary to “provide 30 minutes of quality daily physical education.” There’s mention of “designing new after-school programs to target junior high students living in rural and remote communities.” And there’s also an old favourite of mine about “launching a new program to provide children, youth and families with opportunities for free access to sport and recreation facilities.”
The more I learn about this plan, the more I like it. Hopefully it will also include better education for parents on the value of nutrition and physical fitness. Getting parents involved would go a long way toward broadening participation in this area, and who knows, maybe they could benefit as well.
Sure it costs money to subsidize open gyms and offer free registration, but as we’ve already been shown, this type of investment actually saves our economy money in the long run.
As impressed as I am with this new strategy, however, too many years of government failure to deliver on past promises have made me cynical.
So I’ll hold my applause — but not my breath — until this latest plan is fully implemented.
Chris Cochrane is a sports columnist with The Chronicle Herald and the author of Inside the Game.