Children starting school are physically healthy if:
Their physical health is a product of the nutrition, exercise and care they have received in their home and child care settings. It is also a reflection of the community environment where they live and play. Clean air, clean water, and clean soil contribute to physically healthy children.
Influences on the positive outcome: Physically healthy
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Nutritious food and lots of exercise are essential for young, growing bodies. Children's early diets not only build their young bodies, but help to establish healthy eating habits. Children need little encouragement to run, jump and climb if they have the space and somebody to play with. They also develop fine motor skills quite naturally if they are given the tools, for example crayons, buttons, and shovels.
Prompt medical attention can usually avoid unnecessary complications from illness or disease and appropriate immunization prevents children from contracting many serious childhood diseases. Fewer deaths and declining rates of hospitalization of young children in the last decade suggest that, in general, Canadas children have good physical health. (77) However, the rate of hospital admissions due to asthma increased during the 1980s by 27 percent for boys ages one to four and by 18 percent for the same age.
Parents have the primary responsibility to meet their childrens needs for proper nutrition, exercise and medical care. They help ensure their childs physical health by:
Most communities rely on parents bringing their children to family physicians to monitor their health. However, increasingly professionals see a need for a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to monitoring the healthy development of young children. Such an approach would be built on a simple but comprehensive tracking system for all preschool children with regular screening for healthy physical development as well as for cognitive and socioemotional development. Regular screening ensures early identification and treatment of a range of developmental problems.
Staying on Track is an example of a community-wide early identification, tracking and referral project.
Since governments pay for most health care services, ensuring childrens healthy physical development is a good economic investment.
Childrens experience of the world during the pre-school years is closely linked to physical exploration and experimentation. Yet children are too young to realize the risks they are taking in many situations. Young children need to be taught what is dangerous and told what they are not allowed to do and why. They also require close supervision. In order to avoid being too restrictive, parents need to ensure their home and other environments where children play are as accident proof as possible. Adults must protect and supervise their children in situations where they could be exposed to drowning, burns, poisoning or falls, monitor children in situations around motor vehicles, and ensure children are properly secured when they ride as motor vehicle passengers. (77)
Unintentional injuries are the major cause of death among children and youth over the age of one and a leading cause of hospitalization. In 1995, 1,397 Canadian children and youth (aged 0-19) died as a result of injuries and 47,228 were hospitalized. (335)
Communities play a role both in the promotion of safe practices and in the maintenance of safe environments.
Governments pass legislation, develop regulations and monitor compliance in many areas related to public safety including child safety.
The food children eat, the air they breathe, and the water they drink all contribute to their healthy development. Children are not simply "little adults" in terms of their experience of environmental contaminants.
This means that childrens experiences of their environment and its impact on their bodies cannot be judged by adult standards.
Children, particularly young children, breathe closer to the ground which has a higher concentration of small particles of dust, mist and heavy gases. They eat up to eight times as much as adults in proportion to their body weight which may mean greater exposure to food related toxins. Also, children's organs are still developing. Small levels of particular compounds at sensitive developmental stages may have lifelong effects. (151)
Various studies suggest a need to be concerned about the impact of environmental contaminants on children.
The effects of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) on fetuses and young children can include complications of pregnancy and low birthweight, increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome and ear infections, reduced lung development, and increased severity of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. In 1995, at least 1.4 million Canadian children were exposed to ETS in their homes. The majority of these children lived with parents aged 25 to 44 the age group that smokes the greatest number of cigarettes daily. (325)
In recent years, the idea that chemicals may pose a threat to the developing reproductive systems of the fetus and young child has been identified as a major concern requiring further study. There is also growing scientific evidence that a variety of contaminants called "endocrine-disrupting chemicals" can exert health effects including reproductive disorders, cancer, neurological damage and behaviour and immune dysfunction, by their ability to alter the functions of hormones within the body. (326)
The 1997 Declaration of the Environment Leaders of the Eight on Childrens Environmental Health identified seven areas of concern that require further study and information sharing in terms of policy and program solutions:
It is beyond the scope of this guide to deal with the many questions and volume of research in this area. However, there is increasing concern about the vulnerability of growing bodies to environmental contaminants. We know that healthy food, water and air are essential for healthy children.
Parents control many aspects of their home environment and also exercise some control over where their children spend time away from home.
Community groups often provide leadership in promoting public awareness about environmental threats to children and advocating change. They also promote awareness of healthy public policy and practice.
Governments are in the strongest position to ensure healthy environments for growing children, although their willingness to act on many issues can be a function of public pressure. Through research, public education, regulations and legislation, governments promote knowledge, education and action related to healthy physical environments for children.
The Great Lakes Health Effects Program is an example of a program aimed at protecting mothers, infants and children from exposure to environmental contaminants.
Financial resources are essential to purchase the food, shelter, clothing and other goods or services needed for healthy physical development. Families with stable, adequate financial resources can afford good food, can choose to live in healthy neighborhoods, and can afford to pay for recreational activities that contribute to the healthy physical development of their children.
In 1995, 25% of children in Canada lived below the "low income cut-offs" a widely accepted measure of poverty. Because their parents are younger and less established in their careers, there are more low-income families with young children than with older children. Children living in single parent, female-led families are the most likely to be poor. (332)
In 1998, more than 250,000 children received food from food banks. (321)
Employment that provides an adequate income is the most desired option of all families for supporting their children. However, some families have no wage earner. Others, have employment that is inadequate to meet their basic needs. Government policies play a major role in ensuring all families have an income that ensures they can meet the basic needs of their children. Policies in the following areas have a direct effect on family incomes and their ability to provide basic necessities for their children: