There is a group of MP's who start their day in the pool, coached by Pierre LaFontaine, former Olympic swimming coach for Canada. Given my own love of swimming, this makes me happy. The fitness group has broadened to include jogging, and I hope that it continues to expand so that more and more MP's become involved. They say that they are trying to set examples for "the folks back home" to stay fit and active. If that's the end goal, it's just another publicity stunt or attention grab. You don't change people's habits by saying "look at me! If I can do it, you can do it!" It's far too heavy-handed, and borders on fat-shaming. There are steps in a positive direction, as far as spreading the message to get active and fit, to the extent that there's a private member's bill to declare a National Fitness and Health Day in June. (This is where we can all be activists: if you want your MP to support the bill, write or email them and let them know!)
It's a good start, to be sure. But I hope that this group thinks bigger. I hope that the MP's involved don't stop at the awareness level. Do they honestly think that there's a lack of public awareness about health and fitness and the "obesity crisis"? Hell, no. It's everywhere. The biggest problem we have is that most of the solutions focus on the individual. Health is seen as a personal responsibility. Solely. And, while it's true that we can only worry about ourselves and only take care of ourselves and only decide for ourselves how healthy or active we want to be, putting all of the onus on the individual is what has set up the crisis in the first place. Because the failure rate for dieting is exceptionally high. It's not just about willpower. Something bigger is at play.
We're ignoring systemic and social structures and policies which are contributing to the rise in obesity. The entire population did not just suddenly become lazy gluttons who can't control themselves.
What we need are politicians who can stand up to lobbyists and make decisions which are in the best interests of Canadians as a whole. The evidence is mounting against sugar, yet the big food companies have the money behind them, so there's no push for change in marketing or packaging or seeking alternatives. Think about tobacco. Cigarettes are now kept hidden from view, and you have to ask for them. Warning labels are plastered all over the packages, they are heavily taxed, and the places you can smoke are severely limited. What if we did the same thing with pop? Same with seatbelts. Keeping yourself safe and alive in a car is a matter of personal responsibility, just like we say fitness and nutrition are. Yet, there are laws and steep fines for not wearing your seatbelt. Regulation for the public good is nothing new. Why are we so slow to regulate the food industry? (That's a rhetorical question. This pessimist's answer is: money.)
Even if these MP's don't have the political clout or the strength to change major policy like how sugary breakfast cereals are marketed to children, or to regulate the use of high fructose corn syrup in much of our food (again, pop in particular), or to review the Food Pyramid without pressure from dairy, beef, and wheat lobbyists, there are still angles they could push which are less contentious. Funding for sports programs, tax breaks for gym memberships, support for athletes. Neighbourhoods with trails for walking and hiking, bike lanes, sidewalks, and suburbs with markets and grocery stores. A recent study showing that the risk of obesity correlates to neighbourhoods (in Toronto) indicates that physical environment and socio-economic factors affect our health as much as willpower or personal responsibility. Urban design affects public health, and that's something that our politicians can impact.
In other words, fighting the obesity crisis, epidemic, or war - whatever you want to call it - requires more than just a call to action for people to get up off their couch and move. It requires change at all levels. The MP's do have one thing right, though. By swimming and jogging together, they are also forming bonds of friendship and an opportunity for understanding which will, hopefully, cross party lines. Because our collective health as Canadians is not a political issue.