by Consuelo Solar

Health is probably one of the last things in young minds. For newcomer kids, fitting into a new environment, making new friends and catching up with school work are certainly more important issues. Health is usually a bigger concern for parents.

In a new country, keeping an eye on the kids' well-being can be a harder challenge. Immigrant parents need to be aware of health threatening situations their children might face while growing up in Canada, and they must take advantage of the services at their disposal.

Active Living

According to Statistics Canada, 26 percent of Canadians between 2 and 17 years old were overweight or obese in 2004, mainly because low consumption of vegetables and fruits and lack of exercise. The time kids spend watching TV, playing video games, and sitting in front of a computer increased, and so did their waistlines.

In response to this situation, the Public Health Agency of Canada developed the Physical Activity Guides for Children and Youth, which teaches how to improve youngsters' physical condition. They include recreational and sport activities, encouragement tactics, and charts to keep track of progress. They can be found at www.paguide.com.

It is also a good idea to consult a dietitian who can design appropriate meal plans for children and youth. Dietitians of Canada (DC) is a trusted source of information on food and nutrition. It is the only national organization of dietitians, and in their website, www.dietitians.ca, they have guidelines and tips to eat well, and a search engine to find local registered professionals.

Sex Ed

In 2005, 43 percent of teenagers between 15 and 19 reported that they had had sexual intercourse at least once. Four percent of sexually active people between 15 and 24, admitted having been diagnosed with a Sexual Transmitted Disease (STD).

Sex education, also called "Sex Ed," is widely available in Ontario, as part of school boards curriculum and even at some settlement agencies or health centres. A list of locations is available at the Ontario Association of Health Centres website, www.aohc.org.

Sexuality and You, www.sexualityandu.ca, aims to inform both parents and children about sex. It is a very detailed website that contains graphic material, videos and even games. It offers guidance on abstinence and birth control, disease prevention, pregnancy, relationships, sexual abuse and assault, among many other topics. The website is administrated by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.

Body Image

Having a healthy body image means feeling comfortable in one's own skin and being able to stand firmly against the social pressure on physical appearance.

Eating disorders usually affect people with flawed body images. Anorexia and bulimia are are life threatening diseases, not just "a phase." According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, in 2005, more than 500,000 Canadians suffered from some type of eating disorder.

It is hard to detect one of these illnesses, because their victims often do their best to hide them. But there are clear signs. Some indicators can be refusal to eat, denial of hunger, too much exercise, flat mood or lack of emotion, trouble concentrating, and constant thinking about food and weight. Another clues are skipping of meals, making excuses for not eating, eating only certain foods, adopting rigid eating rituals, weighing food, wearing baggy or layered clothing, and complaining about being fat when they are clearly not fat.

In fact, they tend to look very thin, as well as showing other physical signs like fatigue, dizziness or fainting, weak nails, thinning hair, menstrual irregularities or loss of menstruation (amenorrhea), dehydration or bone loss.

If a parent detects any of these symptoms, they should consult with their family doctor or go to a health community centre, even before talking to their child. The National Eating Disorders Information Centre, www.nedic.ca, provides guidance and support. Most Ontario cities' health departments offer assistance as well.

Mental Health

According to Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the most common mental health sicknesses in children and youth are anxiety, conduct disorder, self-harm, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) – also known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

In Ontario, there is help for children and teenagers, up to 18 years old, with social, emotional, behavioural or psychiatric issues, as well as for their families or caregivers. These resources include assessment, group and individual counselling, treatments, crisis intervention, and telepsychiatry for consultations in rural or remote areas.

Everyone in need can access these services through a mental health agency or a community agency, and they can contact their local regional office of the Ministry, by going to its website, www.children.gov.on.ca.

Drugs

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in 2003 one in ten Canadians, 15 years old and over, reported symptoms that suggest alcohol or illicit drug dependence. A survey among Ontario middle and high school students revealed that 66 percent used alcohol in the previous year, and 27 percent had been drunk at least once in the previous four weeks.

In 2005, 26.5 percent of Ontario students from grades seven to twelve said they had used marijuana in the previous year, and 31 percent reported trying it at least once in their lifetime.

In 2006 almost 24 percent of students from grades seven to twelve admitted that they had smoked cigarettes.

Health conditions caused by drugs vary depending on the type of drug and how much is used, but all drugs are potentially addictive, and that is why it is very important to detect the problem early. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help people affected by mental health and addiction problems.

There is plenty of information in their website, www.camh.net, including contact numbers and locations.

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