Cancer and other chronic diseases account for 89% of all deaths in Canada1 and a large proportion of these diseases can be prevented through healthier lifestyles, including maintaining a healthy body weight. A new Partnership report, Canadian Priorities for Addressing Obesity as a Cancer and Chronic Disease Risk Factor, discusses how creating healthy public policies on nutrition and physical activity have the potential to help Canadians improve their health and dramatically reduce the incidence of cancer. The report also highlights Canada’s existing healthy living and active lifestyle policies at the federal and provincial and territorial levels and examines them within an international context to help identify new potential opportunities to advance healthy public policies across the country.
“Research has shown that healthier diets and increased physical activity help reduce cancer and chronic disease and it is important to connect these lessons learned from science to help shape plans and policies to improve cancer control. We’re already beginning to see some Pan-Canadian adoption of innovative approaches to knowledge sharing that will improve cancer prevention efforts across Canada,” says Dr. Jon Kerner, Senior Scientific Advisor for Cancer Control and Knowledge Translation at the Partnership, and Chair of the Partnership’s Primary Prevention Advisory Group. “This report is an effort to synthesize existing efforts to prioritize and implement healthy public policies aimed to reduce obesity rates and create healthier communities.”
The report was developed following a Pan-Canadian meeting hosted in 2009 in Halifax by the Partnership and Cancer Care Nova Scotia. The purpose of that meeting was to review the policy recommendations from the 2009 World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute Policy and Action for Cancer report,2 the two international organizations dedicated to the prevention and control of cancer by helping people make choices that reduce their chances of developing cancer.
The Partnership used this international publication as a lens to examine nutrition and physical activity policies across Canada and created the Nutrition and Physical Activity Policy Alignment initiative to identify opportunities for policy change that will spur action. The first report is the Canadian Priorities for Addressing Obesity as a Cancer and Chronic Disease Risk Factor, identified the following key findings:
- Canada’s existing healthy living and active lifestyle policies are in line with the government sector recommendations from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research.
- Almost all of Canada’s provinces and territories have policies in place to encourage healthy living and increased physical activity. However, less than half of the jurisdictions monitored have healthy eating policies, despite the rise in Canadian obesity rates.
- The report highlights that Canada needs to focus on: collaborating across multiple levels of federal, provincial and territorial governments; supporting special populations such as those living in poverty, persons with special medical needs, as well as First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples; and ensuring that policies and programs are developed using evidence informed processes.
- The report also notes that schools and governments are the main drivers leading the development of Canada’s healthy living policies and other sectors, including private industry, do not appear to be major contributors to healthier policy making or implementation.
“It is encouraging to see the positive health impacts and early successes being achieved in Canada through the sharing of knowledge across research, practice and policy specialties, and jurisdictions,” said Geoffrey Cannon, World Cancer Research Fund International, which is committed to giving people the information they need to make informed choices to reduce cancer rates globally. “It is important to remember though that we have much more to do and we must continue to work together to inspire policy-makers and decision-makers in other countries.”
Using this report as a foundation, the Partnership continues to collaborate with provinces and territories to identify action strategies that improve public health policies to help reduce obesity rates and related health concerns. Read the report.
1 Chronic Diseases and their Control. WHO press release 50. Chronic Diseases and their Control. WHO press release 59. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2006. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/press_release/2006/PR_59.pdf.