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Report on the Health of Ontario’s Kids - GTA


TORONTO - The 2009 Heart and Stroke Report on the Health of Ontario’s Kids, the first-ever survey of its kind in the province, shows that our children are still facing an unhealthy childhood due to a lack of physical activity and poor eating habits, even though statistics 10 years ago brought these problems to light. And if the situation doesn’t improve soon, this generation of children – through no fault of their own – will experience a shorter lifespan than their parents due to the risk of developing life-threatening illnesses such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

“This Report should serve as a wake-up call that the health of our children is not making the grade,” said Dr. Marco Di Buono, Director of Research, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario (HSFO). “Despite mandatory nutrition labelling and a new edition of Canada’s Food Guide, we’re not seeing bigger gains in healthy eating.”

The most disappointing finding is the number of children meeting the daily recommendations for fruit and vegetables, which has dropped by more than a third in just one decade. Ten years ago, one in five children was eating five or more servings of fruit and vegetables daily, which just meets Canada’s Food Guide's daily recommended minimum.   But in 2009, the prevalence dropped to a mere one in eight children (13%). 

Heart and Stroke Report Card on Ontario’s Kids

Proportion of parents who report their child 6 to 12 years of age:

1998 National Survey*

2009 Ontario Survey**

Eats 5 or more servings of fruit & vegetables daily

20% (F)

13% (F)

Eats whole grain bread and cereals

33% (F)

49% (F)

Eats junk food (potato or taco chips, French fries, candy, chocolate) no more than twice a week

76% (B)

76% (B)

Is physically active 3+ times/per week during the winter

66% (C)

57% (D)

* 1998 survey of a national sample of 424 parents of children aged 6 to 12 years. Results are considered accurate within +4.9%, 19 times out of 20.

** 2009 survey of a sample of 1,189 Ontario parents of children aged 6 to 12 years. Results are considered accurate within + 3.2%, 19 times out of 20, with the exception of physical activity where the margin of error is +5.0%, 19 times out of 20

In 1998, when the Heart and Stroke Foundation surveyed a national sample of parents of children aged 6 to 12 years, it found only one in five children was eating the recommended five or more daily servings of fruit and vegetables and only one in three was eating whole grain breads or cereals. One quarter (24%) ate some form of junk food (chips, French fries, candy or chocolate bars) three or more times a week. The good news appeared to be related to physical activity patterns, with 88% of parents reporting that their children were physically active during the summer. However, the same parents reported that during winter, the proportion that was active would drop dramatically, to only 66%. 

Jump forward 10 years and the findings aren’t much different, which is particularly worrisome given the rising tide of overweight and obesity among children in Ontario. The encouraging news is that parents are reporting more whole-grain consumption: almost half of Ontario’s children appear to be eating whole grains. But junk food consumption has remained consistent, with three-quarters of children still consuming high-fat, high-sugar or high-salt snack foods up to twice a week. One out of four (24%) parents reported their children eat junk food three or more times a week.    

The proportion who are active during the summer has remained consistent (89%  in 2009 vs. 88% in 1998).There has also been a significant decline in the proportion of Ontario’s kids who are physically active three or more times a week during winter (57% in 2009 compared to 66% 10 years ago). 

“Even the limited decrease in physical activity is distressing, especially when you see that we still have one in four children eating junk food three times or more a week, “says Dr. Di Buono. “We clearly need to reinforce the need for a balance of energy in to energy out throughout the year.”

The Hard Truth About Kids Weight

Results from the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s poll must be tempered by the knowledge that parents tend to view their children’s eating and physical activity patterns through rose-coloured glasses. For example, in the Foundation’s 2009 poll, approximately 14% of parents reported their child is “somewhat overweight” and 1% that their child is “very overweight,” for a total of 15%. “However, we know that over the past 25 years, the rate of overweight and obesity among Canadian children aged 2 to 17-years has grown from 15% to 26% [1] and in Ontario the current rate of overweight and obesity is even slightly higher at 28%.”

“This suggests that like many “self-report” findings, parents do not accurately perceive their child’s weight,” says Dr. Sean Wharton, Heart and Stroke Foundation medical advisor and obesity expert.

Similarly, parents may be under estimating their children’s junk food consumption – and overestimating their children’s level of physical activity. For example, a 2008 study by Statistics Canada, comparing child and parent reports on the child’s leisure time activity, found when their reports of the child’s activities were compared, 33% of the children reported more computer and video games usage than their parents, and 34% of children reported more television viewing.[2] Children who spend more than two hours of screen time a day (watching television, playing video games and using the computer) are twice as likely to be obese than those who spend an hour or less in such activities. 1

"Childhood is a crucial time where habits are developed that, in many cases, can last a lifetime," says Dr. Wharton. “It’s a natural instinct to not see the worst in anyone – especially in our children. We need parents to think about the importance of actions that promote a healthy weight as a means of prevention in the same way they look at washing your hands, brushing your teeth and getting your vaccines.”

Is The Economic Crunch a Factor?

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, almost three-quarters (72%) of families with children occasionally or almost always go without certain foods because of cost. Half (48%) of all parents polled reported they at least occasionally have to go without buying particular types of food because of cost, with another 24% reporting this occurs almost every time they shop.  Rates ranged across the province, from a low of 52% in Southwestern Ontario to a high of 79% in Northern Ontario.

What are families going without? The top three food categories were meat and poultry (reported by 32% of respondents), followed by fresh fruit and vegetables (28%) and dairy products (21%). These findings – and the presence of variation across the province −echo those found in the most recent Heart and Stroke Report on the Affordability and Accessibility of Food released this past February 2009. 

Price of Selected Food Items







Chicken Legs (1 kg)






Oranges (6)






Milk (4L)






Whole Grain Bread (1 loaf)






Source: Heart and Stroke Foundation 2009 Annual Report on Canadians’ Health

“How is it possible to live a healthy life, if you don’t have access or can’t afford basic, healthy food?” says Dr. Wharton.


Proportion of parents who report their child 6 to 12 years of age:


Rest of Ontario**

Eating 5+ servings fruit & vegetables/day



Eating whole grains



Eating junk food less than 3 times/week



Physically active during the winter



Parents report they never or rarely go without certain types of food when they shop



Based on responses from 452 parents; margin of error is approximately +5%, 19 times out of 20 except for physical activity where n=135 and margin of error is + 9%, 19 times out of 20

** Based on responses from 734 parents; margin of error is approximately +4%, 19 times out of 20 except for physical activity where n=240 and margin of error is + 6%, 19 times out of 20

Compared to kids in the rest of Ontario, those in the GTA (Toronto and surrounding area) appear to be less likely to eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables per day or to eat whole grains even though the GTA is home to fruit and vegetables from around the world. Perhaps food prices are part of the reason: almost 70% of parents’ report they almost always or occasionally have to go without certain types of food because of cost. 

Only half of the kids were reported to be physically active three or more days a week during winter, compared to 60% for the rest of the province. Although parents’ reports of physical activity increased during summer −up to 84% − this was still lower than the provincial average of 89%. The combined average for winter and summer was 67%. This suggests that up to one-third of GTA children aged 6 to 12 are not getting sufficient physical activity for optimal health.


Ontarians beliefs around childhood obesity


It is common for children in Ontario to be overweight and obese


Childhood obesity is a societal health issue that citizens and organizations need to help solve.


Childhood obesity is a personal health issue that individuals need to deal with on their own.


Only parents can be responsible for ensuring children have access to healthy foods and get sufficient physical activity.


2009 survey of a sample of 2004 Ontarians aged 18 and over. Results are considered accurate within ±2.2%, 19 times out of 20

“There are studies everyday about the causes of childhood overweight and obesity. But no one is speaking up on how to make change happen,” says Dr. Wharton. “This recent Foundation poll of Ontarians shows that people know this is an issue they cannot solve it on their own.”


In 2006, the HSFO identified childhood obesity as a critical issue for the future heart health of Ontario. With 28% of Ontario’s children overweight and obese, a rate that has tripled over the past 25 years, today’s children are at risk of develop long-term health effects such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes at a much too early age – through no fault of their own.

As a result, the Foundation created a ground-breaking, province-wide initiative called SPARK Together for Healthy Kids™ (STHK). The mandate of this program is to advocate for children’s improved access to physical activity and healthy food and the need to work collaboratively with partners from all sectors to create sustainable solutions.

“When it comes to obesity, playing the ’blame game’ – blaming children, youth, parents, schools or other individuals – is not a helpful or productive approach,” says Dr. Di Buono. “The issue is very complex – far more than simply individual bad choices. Childhood obesity is a societal problem and will require a societal response. “

As part of the initiative, the Foundation created the Spark Community Advocacy Fund which provides financial support to community groups advocating for better, heart healthy opportunities for their children.

To date, the HSFO has distributed more than $500,000 to grassroots organizations across the province.

Recognizing that cultural barriers make it difficult for some mainstream health messages to reach children in diverse communities, the Faith Health Initiative, in Toronto is enlisting church pastors and members to act as advocates to increase awareness of the importance of physical activity among children. With a $15,000 Heart and Stroke Foundation grant, the initial group of eight churches has grown to 18. These churches now feel they are part of the answer.

In North York, the Vision Youth Leadership Program is helping students speak out and be heard.  An $18,300 grant provided an opportunity to equip 100 youth ages 14 – 25 with advocacy skills and facilitate their partnership with school councils in their efforts to make healthy foods available for snacks and lunches. These young advocates will build partnerships with school councils, parents and teachers so they can collectively develop a school policy on healthy eating.

In Ontario, the Foundation has also taken a number of steps to address the issue of childhood obesity in Ontario, including: 

  • Building partnerships with other organizations that are part of the solution. To date, 23 organizations from all sectors – government, private sector, not-for-profit and community groups support this initiative. This includes the financial support the Ministry of Health Promotion, sanofi-aventis and Canola Council of Canada.
  • Producing a number of key reports highlighting the issue of childhood obesity including, Access to Healthy Food, Toward a Healthy Ontario and Recreating A Healthy Ontario
  • Supporting Knowledge to Action workshops, created in partnership with Queen’s University, which have been attended by more than 500 participants across the province, including First Nations and Francophone communities.  


To continue to make progress to protect and promote the health of our children and youth, Spark Together for Healthy Kids is committed to working with stakeholders across all sectors.

“In order for us to really effect change, we need to ensure we have effective leadership, dedicated advocacy, sustainable funding and work towards developing healthy public policies,” says Dr. Wharton.

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario Recommendations:

  1. Ensure access to adequate, nutritious, safe and culturally appropriate foods for all Ontarians that are affordable and accessible.
  2. Foster action that supports and encourages active living and physical activity.
  3. Develop essential processes and frameworks at provincial and municipal levels for integrated planning and action.
  4. Facilitate collaborative and synergistic action by Individuals, community groups, not-for-profit agencies, media, private sector and governments.

The cornerstone of this campaign is the Spark Promise to our Children. This is the Foundation’s vision of a healthier tomorrow for Ontario’s children. The Foundation will be encouraging as many individuals and organizations to sign on as possible to demonstrate a groundswell of grassroots support and to build momentum.

To learn more about the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Spark Together for Healthy Kids program, and to read and sign the Promise to Our Children, log onto

N.B.: This press release constitutes the full report. No other data are available.


[1] Shields M. Measured Obesity. Overweight Canadian children and adolescents. Statistics Canada. Cat no 82-620-MWE2005001

[2] Sithole F, Veugelers PJ. Parent and child reports of children’s activity. Statistics Canada,

September 2008. Cat no. 82-003-X