Health Canada reports that over half of Canadian kids aged five to 17 are not physically active enough for optimal growth and development. The number of overweight boys ballooned from 15 percent in 1981 to 35.4 percent in 1996; the percentage of overweight girls expanded from 15 percent to 29.2 percent. In less than a generation, obesity in children tripled. As anyone who has tried to lose a few kilos knows, it is easier to prevent overweight and obesity than to treat it.
If prevention is the key, why would anyone want to close a school’s pool … or shut them down by the half-dozen? Last Wednesday, approximately 150 people packed a community meeting at Keele Street Junior Public School to protest the slated closing of their school’s pool and five others. Students wrote letters, drew pictures, and even donned their bathing suits to show how much swimming means to them. The next day, their letters were hand-delivered to Ontario Education Minister Kathleen Wynne during Question Period. A group of parents was present at the Legislature to witness the event.
Local MP Peggy Nash said that all levels of government are to blame: “Everybody’s passing the buck.” She’s trying to obtain surplus federal funds for the cash-strapped city, and said, “As a neighbour, an MP, and as a human being, I think it’s a dumb idea to close the pool.” The MP, whose husband swims in the pool every day, sat on a panel with MPP Cheri DiNovo, Councillor Bill Saundercook, Councillor Gord Perks, Toronto District School Board Trustee Irene Atkinson, and Mountivew Alternative School Parent Council Co-Chair Jim Adams.
The Keele Pool is shared by Mountview, Keele Public, and a community centre housed in the same complex. Its loss would be a blow to the neighbourhood, which contains more children per capita than any area in Canada. At the pool, not only do kids learn how to swim–they also learn drown-proofing and life-saving skills. If Keele closes, kids will be turned away, and waiting lists at neighbouring pools will be even longer than they are now. Other parents in this economically split neighbourhood can’t afford to pay for lessons, so many children will grow up without learning to swim.
In 2002, the provincial government vowed to keep the pools open indefinitely. MPP Cheri DiNovo says that the Ontario government “has the money, but they’re not going to spend it on you.”
Trustee Irene Atkinson said the city could pay for the pool only if another programme is cut to fund it. The Toronto District School Board owns 78 swimming pools which cost $15.3 million annually to run, and about $8 million to repair. No money is received from the province. The City was funding 41 of the pools, but can no longer afford it. As a result, five pools alongside Keele are slated to close this year: Newtonbrook Collegiate, R.H. King Academy, SATEC at W.A. Porter Collegiate, Lawrence Park Collegiate, and George Harvey Collegiate.
Mountview Co-Chair Jim Adams said that the campaign against closing the facilities is currently considering short term solutions: raising money needed to keep the pools open until a long term solution can be found, asking the city to redirect funds back to Keele Pool, and even seeking corporate donations as a short term fix. The Keele group plans to link up with others affected by the cuts to build a wider coalition that could press Queen’s Park for long term funding solutions. Councillor Gord Perks said that any short-term solution is only a Band-Aid for a larger problem. “We need to heal the wound–which is fixing how the province funds education.”
Obese children have an increased risk of becoming obese adults. Paediatricians are seeing a rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes, childhood hyperlipidemia, and hypertension in overweight children. Compared to the present and future health care costs, our pools are a bargain: money should be allotted to creating more swimming programmes, not to mothballing pools. If an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure, there are many pounds at stake.