Nov. 22, 2018

Ignoring needs of Canadian kids costing the economy billions: Analysis

O'Brien Institute makes economic case for investing in Canadian children
A commentary released this week by the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary puts a dollar figure on the issues facing Canadian children, including obesity, bullying, and child abuse.

Commentary released by the O’Brien Institute for Public Health discusses issues facing children.

Efraimstochter published under Creative Commons licence

Children and youth from across Canada gathered in Toronto this week for the National Child Day Forum, a day of discussions on the urgent need to invest in Canada’s youngest citizens, culminating with the final release of the Canadian Children’s Charter.

The event came on the same day as the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and Children First Canada released a paper on the economic implications of not investing in Canada’s children. Led by O’Brien Institute member Dr. Aidan Hollis, PhD, professor in the Department of Economics, at the University of Calgary, the paper puts a financial cost on the challenges being faced by children in Canada. The paper is a follow-up to the Raising Canada report, which was released in September and highlights alarming statistics regarding the physical, mental and emotional health of kids in Canada.

“Raising Canada makes it clear that, as a nation, we face some significant red flags in our treatment of children,” says Hollis, in the paper. “Too many suffer from physical and mental health issues, many of which are preventable. Too many are raised in poverty. Too many suffer from abuse, and pay a hefty toll throughout their lives. These are difficult problems, to be sure, but we can certainly do better with respect to some of these challenges.”

Canadian children aren’t the only ones paying for the issues affecting them. According to Hollis, these issues have a big impact on Canada’s economy. Hollis interpreted the price tag that bullying, obesity and child abuse exacts on children and society. 

Bullying can cost Canada up to $4 billion per year. Based on a recent UNICEF report, 15 per cent of Canadian children aged 11-15 reported being bullied at least twice in the last month. Child abuse cost Canadians $23 billion in 2018 in court, health care and social services costs as well as long-term effects on earnings, while childhood obesity costs Canada up to $22 billion per year in lost productivity and increased health-care costs. According to Raising Canada, 27.9 per cent of youth in Canada report being overweight or obese.

From an economic perspective, what should be apparent, according to Hollis, is that children’s health and well-being are the foundation of future economic success. Early interventions that address known public health problems in children can have enormous payoffs in the future.

Along with the release of the Children’s Charter and Raising Canada’s economic impact breakdown, National Child Day was an opportunity for children and youth leaders to directly contribute to a vision and action plan for all of Canada's children, and meet with leaders in the community, the private sector and government to address their concerns.

From left: Senator Jane Cordy, Dr. Amy Metcalfe, Stephanie Mitton of Children’s First Canada, Senator Raymonde Gagné, and Senator Brian Francis on Parliament Hill Nov. 7.

Senator Cordy, Dr. Metcalfe, Stephanie Mitton of Children’s First Canada, Senators Gagné and Francis

Amy Metcalfe

Bringing children’s issues to the national stage

The Raising Canada report also served as the basis for O’Brien Institute member Dr. Amy Metcalfe’s invitation to speak to the Senate’s Open Caucus on Child Well-Being in Canada at Parliament Hill on Nov. 7.

Metcalfe, the lead author of the Raising Canada report, was one of several experts from across the country who were invited to speak to the Senate, where she highlighted how cyberbullying, child abuse, obesity, and lax regulations around automotive safety have impacted the quality of life and well-being of children in Canada.

Citing the report, right before Metcalfe’s address, Senator Jane Cordy noted how Canada is the world’s eighth wealthiest nation, yet the prevalence of suicide, poverty and hospitalizations due to mental health concerns amongst Canadian children are wildly out of step with its prosperity.

Amy Metcalfe is an assistant professor, departments of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Medicine, and Community Health Sciences, member of Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the Libin Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine.

The O'Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary supports excellence in population health and health services research, while realizing the benefits of such research by using that knowledge to inform community, policy and health practice stakeholders. The Institute's membership includes more than 480 multidisciplinary researchers from 13 Cumming School of Medicine departments, nine additional University of Calgary faculties, including Nursing, Veterinary Medicine, Kinesiology and Arts; health professionals in Alberta Health Services; and, research users and policy makers from municipal and provincial institutions. As an Institute, we share a vision of "better health and health care," reflecting our two priority research areas of Improved Population Health and Enhanced Health Systems Performance.

Children First Canada has a bold and ambitious vision to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up, while working to improve children's well-being by building greater awareness amongst Canadians about the urgent needs of Canadian kids, and mobilizing government, lawmakers and influencers to change the status quo.