Statement made on 26 October 2010 by Senator Catherine Callbeck
Hon. Catherine S. Callbeck:
Honourable senators, this inquiry is adjourned in the name of Senator Fraser, but she has yielded so that I may speak to it at this time.
I am pleased to rise in support of the inquiry initiated by Senator Raine on how the performance of Canadian athletes at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games can inspire and motivate Canadians, especially young people, to become fit and healthy. Senator Raine has inspired and motivated many Canadians over the course of her career, and I congratulate and commend her for bringing forth this inquiry.
Like most Canadians, I watched with great interest and excitement the success of Canadian athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics. The tremendous sacrifice and effort made by our athletes to rise to the top of their respective sports was truly outstanding. Their ability to focus their efforts and concentrate on the challenges they face was a measure of their dedication and their commitment. Just as athletes inspire and motivate themselves to excel, so too do they inspire and motivate others. That is one of the greatest legacies of the Olympic spirit.
All Canadians have their own special Olympic heroes. In my home province of Prince Edward Island, we are extremely proud of our Olympic athletes — Dave "Eli" MacEachern, Heather Moyse, Kara Grant and Jared Connaughton. They excelled in their respective sports and earned the respect and admiration of their fellow Islanders. They all have become role models, especially for those who share the desire to become the best athletes they can be. Not all of us have the potential to be medal winners or even to participate in local, regional, national or international athletic competitions. However, we all can be inspired and motivated by those who have committed themselves to the discipline and rigours of training and competing.
In initiating this inquiry, Senator Raine said that we must take advantage of the special spirit of the Olympic Games to inspire Canadians, young and old, to choose a healthy lifestyle. That healthy lifestyle includes exercise, healthy eating, positive attitude and avoidance of unhealthy products. As has been pointed out, most Canadians fall short in one or more of these characteristics of a healthy lifestyle. It is estimated that 6 in 10 Canadians are overweight or obese. This leads to many other health complications including chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart and lung diseases, and the like.
Canadians do not exercise nearly enough. According to the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute, more than 50 per cent of Canadian adults aged 20 and over are inactive. Only an estimated 23 per cent are considered to be active; and one quarter more are only moderately active. Given what we know about the importance of physical fitness in the prevention of illness and disease, these are truly alarming numbers.
Having a positive attitude is also an important factor in the overall health of people. Dealing with stress, depression and other mental and emotional problems creates very difficult conditions for many Canadians. Again, research has shown that exercise and diet can help to mitigate or alleviate many of these conditions, resulting in healthier and happier lives.
Olympic athletes represent the ideal in terms of healthy living, positive attitudes and the drive to succeed. As Senator Raine pointed out in initiating this inquiry, the spirit of the 2010 Olympic Games must be harnessed to address the crisis in physical activity.
We recognize that this is not an easy challenge to meet. Despite the examples demonstrated by Olympic athletes, efforts on the parts of government and health professionals, and campaigns to encourage people to exercise more and eat better, the fact remains that Canadians could be much healthier and more active. Many poor families cannot afford to purchase healthier foods. I recently had the privilege of being involved in a project at a family resource centre in Charlottetown that helped to provide fresh vegetables and fruits to children, as well as advice to families on how these foods are best prepared. These and other initiatives can help, but they are not enough.
When it comes to exercise, there are limits on people's time. Many people live rushed and busy lives. However, many have found that it requires only the discipline to allocate even shorter periods of time to simple exercises such as walking. Despite these and other practical obstacles and constraints, we need to mount an all-out campaign to better inform people about the risks of not exercising or eating properly and about the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. It is people themselves who must make the changes needed, and we need to provide them with the information and supports that they require.
In that context, I would like to tell you about a new initiative launched by the government of Prince Edward Island in May called, Go!PEI. It is a partnership between the government and community groups that encourages Islanders to think about how they can add more physical activity to their days and how they can make healthy food choices. The campaign is organizing walking events in various communities, which promote fun and exercise. Hopefully, this will lead to people undertaking physical activities on their own or in the company of others.
In terms of healthier food choices, information is available to help people know what a portion size looks like, how to read food labels following Canada's Food Guide, and other tips for healthier eating involving various age groups.
This issue of unhealthy living, unless it is checked, is a looming national crisis that will result in enormous costs to individual lives and to the health care system. I believe that we must have a concerted effort in Canada to promote healthy lifestyles. I hope the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic spirit will prove to be a catalyst for change. The pride we feel for the success of the men and women who compete for Canada can inspire us to achieve our own versions of the Olympic motto: Faster, Higher, Stronger.