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Honourable senators, I rise today to add my voice to the most important issue facing all Canadians: our heath and the health of our children.

As the Ambassador of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and a life-long athlete who walks the talk of Healthy Living, our esteemed colleague Senator Nancy Greene-Raine has called to the attention of this chamber, the success of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games held in Vancouver, Richmond and Whistler form February 12 to 28 and, in particular, how the performance of the Canadian athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games can inspire and motivate Canadians and especially children to become more fit and healthy.

I believe that health is paramount over all other issues – it’s an issue that demands and deserves serious attention by all levels of government, media, schools and families. The issue of Health is at the heart of our quality of life and the future of our existence on this planet. Without our health, we have nothing.

When I heard the shocking statistics and warnings of the potentially deadly future for my daughter and her digital generation, it grabbed my attention like no other. My contemporaries and I could be the first generation to outlive our children if the trend of growing childhood obesity, inactivity and declining health isn't reversed soon. We are truly in a state of emergency.

As a working mother who lives thousands of miles away from her only child for more than half the year and already burdened with the guilt of separation, I didn’t want to face the truth. What truth, you may ask? The fact that my daughter could be spending an average of 7 hours a day in front of a screen. 7 hours?! Almost a third of the day?  Not my child! Not in our home!

Honourable senators, I confess to you today that in spite of limits we have tried to set in our home regarding the usage of  computers and gadgets, and under the watchful care of my husband or me (or both), our daughter is but a statistic. She is a 14-year-old teenager who studies online, socializes online, pursues her love of music and arts online, plays games online, expresses herself online and explores the world online.

Technology is a blessing and a curse. Computers spark the imagination of our children beyond their wildest dreams, without demanding of their users to exert much physical energy or work up a sweat. No longer limited by geography or separated by vast oceans or the endless sky, the world is simply at their fingertips. 

How did our daughter become another statistic? Where did we go wrong? My husband and I had done our best to slow our daughter's entry into the super-charged digital world for as long as possible, but with the potential threat of social isolation and techno- illiteracy, we eventually chose to equip her with the tools for social integration, academic success and global opportunities. There's no shortage of online sites that keep her fully engaged, for hours and hours. Sometimes up to seven hours a day….

In spite of our efforts to limit our daughter's electronic overload, I must confess that it's an uphill battle to keep it from invading and dominating our home life.

My husband and I walk almost every night and try to get our daughter to go with us, but when she earnestly explains that she’s doing homework or a group project with her friends online and shows us the pages and questions that she’s working on, what’s a parent to say? No, I don’t care about your homework - you’re going walking now! Thank goodness on days when she has PE and will be running. Though I wish it were every day, at least I know she will run every Day 2. But I still worry about the future when she’s in grade 11 and her time table may not allow her to choose PE 11 as an elective. In BC, Physical Education is a mandatory course up to grade 10. I believe it should be mandatory in every grade, but curriculum reform is a whole other issue.

Over the past fifteen years, a new generation of digitally savvy children has evolved. As this new digital generation has developed, the prevalence of overweight boys and girls in Canada has increased by 92% and 57% respectively.

Childhood obesity is a concern because it not only results in almost certain obesity in adulthood, but can contribute to the early development of serious health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

But sadly, only 87% of Canadian children and youth are meeting the recommended 90 minutes of daily physical activity that would allow them to benefit both physically and academically.

How do we motivate our children to become more active? As our children’s social and academic lives become increasingly digital, parents find themselves in a constant battle to have their children put down the laptop and head out to play.

Many parents themselves are unaware of the physical activity needs of their children. Only 27% of parents say they know what Canada’s physical activity guidelines are.

As parents struggle to set healthy guidelines at home, perhaps children and youth stand the best chance of learning about health and physical fitness from the classroom? However only 57% of Canadian schools are meeting the provincial requirement for allotted time devoted to physical education. 10% of Canadian Children receive no physical education at all. These percentages worsen as students advance through the secondary grades as previously stated.

Literacy and Numeracy have long been articulated school-wide goals for K-12 education. As a former English teacher of 21 years, I devoted countless hours to develop and deliver programs that improved literacy among my students. There isn't a teacher or parent who would not agree that these goals are essential for the future of Canada.

Honourable senators, as we hear the startling facts regarding the heart-stopping fate of our children, and hear the plea of parents across this country who struggle to keep their children active at home, I propose today that we must ADD a third goal - the goal of Physical Literacy.

Physical literacy is defined as the foundation of skills or tool that children need to posses or develop in order to receive the inherent benefits of taking part in physical activity and sport for life-long enjoyment and success.

It has been documented that even a moderate amount of physical activity, sport and school health approaches are related to enhance learning and academic performance through: improvements in memory, concentration and attention span; improvements in grades and test scores; increases self-esteem, self confidence and self image, to name a few benefits.

Physical literacy will improve health by educating our youth about health and healthy living. As a person who had prided myself in being an athlete and had never suffered from any major health issues, I was shocked and humbled in my first year as a Senator when I suffered two debilitating health problems due to my lack of physical literary.  I learned that there is a clear difference between physical activity and physical literacy, and that physical literacy is necessary to be healthy over a lifetime.

Honourable senators, it is my firm belief that in every school across Canada, physical literacy must be the number one educational goal.  Beyond school, we need a national vision and a coordinated effort to make Physical Literacy the goal for all Canadians now and especially for a healthier future.

Our quality of life depends on it.

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