But the Healthy Kids Panel, of which Sutcliffe was a member, has come up with a number of solutions aimed at helping to move the province towards its goal of reducing childhood obesity by 20 per cent by 2017.
Earlier this month, the government-appointed panel released a 64-page report called No Time to Wait: The Healthy Kids Strategy, which contains several recommendations on how to deal with the issue.
As Sutcliffe and the 17 other panel members developed the recommendations, they met monthly to review the literature and best practices related to reducing childhood obesity and consulted with experts and citizens alike.
She said she's hopeful the government will act on the report.
“There certainly seems to be a receptivity to the recommendations and to looking at them seriously and implementing them,” she said. “Childhood obesity is a huge problem in the western world, and certainly in Canada and in Ontario.”
The government said in a press release that as a first step, it is striking an inter-ministerial working group to direct government actions on implementing the panel's recommendations.
“The Healthy Kids Panel has produced an excellent report that provides us with invaluable advice on how we can help make our kids healthier,” said Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews, in a press release.
“As part of our Action Plan for Health Care, our government is committed to taking action on many of these recommendations in the coming months.”
The Sudbury health unit is also in the process of reviewing the recommendations, and will release a report on the actions it plans to take in response at the April Sudbury Board of Health meeting, Sutcliffe said.
The first pillar of the recommendations, starting all kids on the path to health, includes encouraging breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
Sutcliffe said there are multiple benefits to breastfeeding, but one of them is that it helps babies understand when they're full, and is connected with a reduced chance of childhood obesity.
The panel also suggests women of child-bearing age be educated about the impact of their weight on the well-being of their children, as well as their own health.
Sutcliffe said if a mother is overweight, their child often is as well.
The second pillar of the recommendations, changing the food environment, includes banning point-of-sale promotions of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods in retail settings, requiring all restaurants to list the calories on items, and banning the marketing of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods to children under the age of 12.
Sutcliffe likens changing the food environment to what's been done in Ontario over the last 10 years with regards to tobacco use.
The government started out by educating the public about the dangers of smoking, but soon found out that wasn't enough.
They then moved on to measures such as banning smoking in public places, printing graphic ads on cigarette packages and hiding cigarettes from view in stores.
The same holds true for food — people do better when there's less temptations surrounding them, she said. They're also less likely to choose high-calorie foods if they have access to the nutrition information, Sutcliffe said.
The third pillar of the recommendations is creating healthy communities, and includes recommendations such as developing a healthy kids social marketing program, making schools hubs for child health, speeding implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy and ensuring families have timely access to specialized obesity programs when needed.
Sutcliffe said poverty has an especially large impact on obesity levels and other health issues.
“We do the costing of the nutritious food basket in our area,” she said. “We know it's a real issue for people who are either on a low income – the working poor – or those who are on benefits, to be able to afford to eat healthfully.”
While physical activity is important to staying healthy, none of the recommendations deal with the issue because exercise doesn't do enough to reduce childhood obesity, Sutcliffe said.
“Some studies show that we eat the caloric equivalent of one additional meal per day,” she said. “In order to burn that off, you'd have to be extremely physically active.”
The report says that between 1978/79 and 2004, the prevalence of obese and overweight Ontario children increased about 70 per cent.
While the proportion of heavier children between the ages of two and five has not increased significantly in that time span, the proportion of 12- to 17-year-olds who are overweight or obese has increased from 14 to 29 per cent.
According to the 2009-2011 Canadian Health Measures Survey, “kids today are fatter, rounder, weaker and less flexible than their parents were a generation ago.”
It's important to combat childhood obesity, as an estimated 75 per cent of obese children become obese adults, the report said.
In 2009, the direct and indirect costs to Ontario's health-care system and the economy associated with obesity were estimated to be $4.5 billion.
While the health issues associated with obesity are definitely a problem, Sutcliffe said there's also the fact that overweight kids often become the targets of bullies, something which affects them into adulthood.
“We end up potentially not reaping all the benefits of their gifts and talents as they grow and get older and contribute to society,” she said.
“So I think it's incredibly important from a physical health perspective, but also from a mental health and a stigma perspective.”
A statement from one parent included in the report backs up Sutcliffe's point of view.
“My son tells me that he didn't see anything wrong with himself until his first day of school, when he saw that he looked different from everybody else,” the parent said.
“As he went through elementary school, he was mercilessly bullied and he bullied back. When he reached high school, he had to wear a uniform, but the company didn't even make them in my son's size.
“So, I found a similar shirt and sewed the school decal on it. That made (the bullying) worse.”