Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario


Nurses help tackle childhood obesity, Sick Kids to apply new nursing guideline

TORONTO, Sept. 25, 2006 – As children and teenagers settle into a new school year, nurses are releasing a health-care resource to encourage healthier habits. The professional guideline offers concrete strategies to prevent obesity in children and youth by promoting healthy eating and more physical activity.

The print and online resource (published in 2005 and now receiving a public launch), Primary Prevention of Childhood Obesity, by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), helps nurses gain new knowledge and skills to deal with what is now a widespread public-health issue in Canada. According to a 2001 report by the Public Health Agency of Canada, between 1981 and 1996, the percentage of obese children in Canada between the ages of seven and 13 tripled. During that time, the prevalence of overweight boys increased from 15 per cent to 35 per cent, and among girls from 15 per cent to 29 per cent. Obesity is contributing to a dramatic rise in illnesses among children, youth and adults, such as: type 2 diabetes; heart disease; stroke; hypertension and some cancers.

Major health-care organizations across Canada are adopting the guideline. For example, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, Canada's most research-intensive hospital and largest centre dedicated to improving children's health, is exploring how to best implement the recommendations to enhance nursing practice in this area. “This guideline will be the clinical base for many combined strategies the hospital uses to prevent and treat obesity in children. Sick Kids, like RNAO, believes healthy lifestyles must begin early and continue for a lifetime,” says Pam Hubley, Associate Chief of Nursing Practice at Sick Kids. The Niagara Health System also plans to apply the guideline.

The guideline, targeting children from birth to age 18, identifies societal factors contributing to the current crisis including – a convenience-driven lifestyle of high calorie, processed foods; larger portions; and the shift away from physical activity to more sedentary pastimes such as computers and video games.

“We urgently need to work together to reverse the childhood obesity trend. Overweight kids are likely to be overweight adults. Nurses need to be armed with the best evidence-based tools to help prevent and fight this growing issue – and this resource does just that. It takes a healthy village to raise a healthy child, nurses are doing their part to help create both,” says Tazim Virani, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario’s Director of the Best Practice Guideline Program.

This prevention-focused educational and clinical resource contains an introductory endorsement by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Sheela Basrur. “I applaud this proactive initiative by RNAO to help Ontario kids maintain and regain a healthy weight. As a society, we have lost the balance between the energy we take in and the energy we expend, which is key to a healthy weight. We also need to build interdisciplinary collaboration – both within and beyond the health-care sector – to have a significant impact on this important public health issue,” says Basrur.

The resource contains 17 key recommendations for nurses to use, including:

  • focus on healthy behaviours rather than on weight or weight loss;
  • identify and act to change the behaviours of families that can result in the development of childhood obesity;
  • children need to be active at least an hour and a half every day; 
  • emphasize fruits and vegetables for children rather than calorie-heavy snacks; 
  • limit the amount of time kids spend watching TV each day to one hour or less for children under four, and two hours or less for children between the ages of four and eight;
  • support active ways for kids to get to school and other places in the neighborhood;
  • work with schools and other organizations to create healthier communities.
The nurse who led the development of the resource, Paula Robeson in Hamilton, says: “This unique resource targets individual, family and community solutions to childhood obesity. It recommends the creation of environments – at home, school and elsewhere in communities – in which healthy lifestyle choices are easier. We all have a role to play in making the settings in which our children live, learn, and play healthier and more active.”

RNAO’s ambitious Best Practice Guidelines Program, funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care was launched in 1999 to provide the best available evidence for patient care across a wide spectrum of health-care areas. The 29 guidelines developed to date are a substantive contribution towards building excellence in Ontario’s health-care system. They are available to nurses and other health care professionals across Canada and abroad.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario is the professional association representing registered nurses in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has lobbied for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health-care system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve. To learn more about RNAO’s Nursing Best Guidelines Program or to view these resources please visit


For more information, please contact:
Marion Zych, Director of Communications, RNAO
Phone: 416-408-5605
Toll free: 1-800-268-7199 ext.209
Cell: 647-406-5605