Clean Up Your Act or Face the Consequences

Poor lifestyle habits could give young Canadians shorter lifespans than their parents. What will it take for people to make healthier choices?

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Public health researcher David Hammond has an important warning for Canadians: if the next generation doesn’t clean up their lifestyle habits, they might be the first to live shorter lives than their parents.

Hammond, professor of public health and health systems at the University of Waterloo, also has a message of hope: “We already know how to make Canadians live longer and live more healthy lives: less smoking, better diets, and more exercise.”

So how do we get there?

Better diet choices start with better information, says Hammond. Until now, consumers have mainly had access to nutrition information that is difficult for most people to interpret. Numbers alone aren’t enough to paint a picture for the average consumer. For instance, knowing that your cereal contains 1,000 milligrams of sodium may not help a shopper decide whether this is just a little, or a lot.

More accessible information would help guide consumers to make healthier choices, whether it’s at home, at the store, or out at a restaurant.

But beyond food, Hammond is most excited about another project: reducing the addictiveness of cigarettes.

Reducing the number of Canadians who smoke has been a government undertaking for the past 50 years, and yet every year more young kids take up the habit.

Many people may be shocked to learn that more Canadian women die each year from lung cancer due to smoking than from breast cancer. This is a major problem, and one that should be addressed by public health programs.

For instance, e-cigarettes are relatively new to the market, and they could be used to help people quit smoking. They could also be used as a starter product to get kids hooked. How they are regulated will influence their use, and Hammond’s research looks at the best policies to guide the healthiest outcomes.

But in the meantime, Canadians who want to boost their own health can put in the extra effort to get informed and get active.

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David Hammond is an Associate Professor and CIHR Applied Chair in Public Health in the School of Public Health & Health Systems at the University of Waterloo.

Professor Hammond’s research focuses on population-level interventions to reduce chronic disease, primarily in the areas of tobacco control, obesity prevention, and substance use policy.

Professor Hammond has served as an Advisor to the World Health Organization, as well as regulatory agencies and governments around the world on tobacco control policy. Professor Hammond has also served as an Expert Witness on behalf of governments in Canada, the UK, Australia, and Uruguay in litigation launched by the tobacco industry. Dr. Hammond’s work has been recognized by awards from the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the World Health Organization.