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Tackling child obesity through sport

It’s no secret that child obesity is on the rise. In Canada, over 26 per cent of minors are either overweight or obese—that’s 1.6 million children and adolescents. Although genetics may play a part in some of these cases, lack of physical exercise and the consumption of fatty and sugary foods are more often to blame.

McGill medical students Anthony Albina and Adam Daniel Parent see combating obesity in children as a community effort. They’ve founded the not-for-profit Vitamin Sport to provide a fun, safe and accessible sports environment to elementary-aged students regardless of socioeconomic status, gender or ability.

Vitamin Sport is powered by 12 first- and second-year McGill medical students with a special interest in physical activity and preventative medicine. This year, they’ve partnered with the after-school sports program at Willingdon Elementary in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood, where they lead weekly fitness activities to keep students active. The program also has an educational component—biweekly nutritional workshops cover balanced breakfasts, appropriate food portions and how to properly follow the Canada Food Guide.

The overarching goal of all this is simple: to empower kids to take control of their health. But simple doesn’t always mean easy. “Overweight children are often targeted by social discrimination and bullying,” says Parent, “and this hinders self-esteem and threatens academic and social functioning. Promoting active lifestyle choices from a very young age gives these kids powerful tools to aid them in every aspect of their lives, including in their interpersonal skills and their academics.”

Parent and Albina aim to expand Vitamin Sport into other schools and neighbourhoods, and they’ve already been contacted to do so. Next year will see them expand their program at Willingdon beyond one day per week. “We said to ourselves: this is doable, we have the tools and the motivation to see this through,” Albina says. “When students develop a positive association with sports and nutrition, they become more interested in healthier lifestyles, and they learn lessons that they can take with them as they grow up into healthy adults. It’s really great to see.”