Caring for our children

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, September / October 2012

Arlene Wilgosh

Flip through the pages of this magazine and you will quickly discover that we have developed a bit of a theme for this issue of Wave: the health and well-being of our children.

And why not? Children are our most precious resource. They are the cornerstone of the family, the lifeblood of the community. They represent our hopes and dreams and give us reason to be optimistic about the days that lie ahead.

Parents instinctively understand this. It's why they do everything they can to ensure their kids are safe, happy and healthy.

Those of us working in health care understand this, too. It's why we have a hospital and programs dedicated to caring for our kids. It's also why we are constantly working to identify and address the risks to their health and well-being.

The effort to combat childhood Type 2 diabetes illustrates the point. As our story on page 26 points out, Type 2 diabetes in children is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically, Type 2 diabetes was considered to be an "adult onset" condition, meaning that it surfaced only in people well into middle age.

This changed about 30 years ago. At the time, Dr. Heather Dean, a fly-in physician in northeastern Manitoba, noticed that some of her patients - children as young as 11 years of age - were displaying symptoms of Type 2 diabetes.

Although Type 2 diabetes is considered to be a lifestyle condition, one that can be caused by poor diet and inactivity, Dean, now a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Hospital, knew these cases were different. She was right. Within a few years, scientists concluded that these children were genetically prone to having a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. In essence, children were being exposed to the risk of Type 2 diabetes from conception.

Mary Wood was one of these children. Diagnosed at age 11, Type 2 diabetes has left her with weakened kidneys and in need of dialysis. Her 14-year-old daughter, Charlotte, has also been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. So far, Charlotte has been able to keep her condition in check, thanks in large measure to the efforts of her mom, and the support of Dean and the health-care providers and community outreach workers at the Diabetes Education Resource for Children and Adolescents (DER-CA).

Established about 25 years ago, the clinic plays an important role in helping children at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. It's not always easy. Many of the kids who need help live in remote communities, and staff members have to work hard to build trusting relationships.

As our story points out, their efforts got a major boost earlier this year when scientists at the University of Manitoba and the Manitoba Institute of Child Health launched a new initiative to bolster research into childhood Type 2 diabetes.

In doing so, they are joining healthcare providers and community outreach workers in a truly multidisciplinary effort to better diagnose, treat and prevent pediatric Type 2 diabetes. Dean is hopeful that the investment in new research will ultimately help slow the growth of childhood Type 2 diabetes among our young people.

There are many other examples of health-care workers and researchers responding to the needs of our children. In this issue of Wave, for example, you can read about the efforts underway to learn more about concussions.

Awareness about head injuries has been growing in recent years. The Pan Am Clinic, under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Dr. Wayne Hildahl, is working to ensure the Winnipeg Health Region stays on top of the issue.

Earlier this year, clinic staff members sent survey invitations to more than 15,000 amateur hockey players, parents, and coaches to get a better handle on the prevalence of concussions in our community. The clinic plans to use the information gathered in the survey to gain insight into the frequency and treatment of concussions. In addition, staff members are networking with experts in Canada and the United States to ensure the Region follows best practices for the diagnosis and treatment of concussions.

Type 2 diabetes and brain injuries represent two of the more dramatic health threats that our children may face during their lifetimes. But there are more subtle dangers to the health of our kids. Inactivity is one such example.

Indeed, as our story on page 12 points out, many experts believe that inactivity poses one of the greatest risks to the health of our kids over the long term. They say that young people need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day just to maintain good health. Unfortunately, many studies conducted in Canada and elsewhere suggest that most kids are not getting the exercise they need. As a result, our kids may grow up to be more susceptible to chronic conditions, such as heart disease and kidney failure.

Reasons for inactivity among young people are fairly straightforward: kids are spending more time playing video games on their computers or talking to their friends on smart phones and less time shooting hoops at the local playground or simply playing. Solutions are less so. Nonetheless, efforts are being made to counteract the forces at work. Physical education classes have been reintroduced into the school curriculum, and programs to promote activity have been launched.

No one suggests these efforts alone will be enough to turn the tide of inactivity. That will require efforts by parents as well as changes at the societal level. But they do represent an attempt to get our kids moving in the right direction. Moreover, they demonstrate a real commitment to ensuring our children have a chance to grow up healthy. That's the least we can do for our kids. They are, after all, our future.

Wave: September / October 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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