Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why isn't obesity an election issue?

So here we are in Canada in the midst of an election. Promises are being made, platforms are being unveiled, and politicians are prowling the land.

So let's pretend for a moment there was this problem in Canada. A public health problem, and it was a biggie.

Let's say there was a virus out there, and for arguments sake, let's say it was killing 25,000 Canadians a year while afflicting millions. And if that's not bad enough, lets say that this virus was a particularly nasty one, in that if it didn't kill you, it markedly increased your risk of getting a whole slew of other medical conditions. Worse yet, this virus wasn't silent. Infection with this virus was visible to the naked eye, and consequently sufferers became regular targets of societal bias. Infection also lead many to suffer with marked fatigue, and also made completing activities of daily living more challenging, with difficulty rising with degree of infection.

Let's say too that while there was no vaccine or treatment that worked for everyone, there were both public health and medical interventions that might make a difference, if even just to combat the rising negative bias in society, as sufferers were ridiculed regularly, and even had their visible affliction leading them to lower salaries and fewer promotions. Let's also say that amazingly and shockingly, medical schools and other health care professions weren't being taught how to deal with this virus, and that the media had a bad habit of blaming those with it as being personally responsible for contracting it.

And let's say that one quarter of all Canadians were infected.

I'm guessing that virus would be one hell of an election issue.

And yet the leaders and parties are virtually silent on obesity, a chronic relapsing disease that kills, sickens, stigmatizes, and challenges millions of Canadians. Our medical schools don't teach our young doctors how to deal with it, and our government spends comparatively nothing on it.

Need an example? Just a few short months ago, rather than actually do anything, the government launched a "national dialogue" on childhood obesity. This despite having held a series of public consultations (of which I was a part) that had culminated in a March 2007 House of Commons Standing Committee on Health report of actual actionable steps.

And now 4 years later, there's still been no action, except to suggest we need to repeat the dialogue our tax dollars already paid for back in 2006?

Someone's got to stir things up!

To that end I'm very happy to report the birth of Reality Coalition Canada (RCC). RCC is a group of 15 diverse Canadian clinicians and researchers who have both expertise and passion in advocating for reality as it pertains to obesity prevention, treatment and policy. Our official launch will be a breakfast talk on April 30th during the Canadian Obesity Network's National Summit and we're hoping, through white papers and noise, to help spur Canada out of dialogue and into action.

And maybe, with some media attention next week, maybe, just maybe, one of the parties will be brave enough to actually start thinking about what we as a country ought to be doing to help deal with this very real, yet readily ignored, public health crisis.

[For more thoughts on this topic, later this morning please visit my co-Reality Coalition Canada member, friend, colleague and fellow blogger Dr. Arya Sharma's blog, as well as my other blogging buddies, Travis Saunders' and Dr. Peter Janiszewki's Obesity Panacea]

(And remember, for extra tidbits, or if you'd prefer to follow this blog there, you can also follow Weighty Matters on Facebook)