Best job in health

For a rookie, Margarett Best seems to know her way around the big leagues.

The first-time MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood was sworn in on Oct. 30 as Ontario’s new Minister of Health Promotions, succeeding Jim Watson.

She was among 10 new ministers to be inducted into cabinet following the parliamentary shuffle.

“I certainly hope to, and plan to continue in the direction [of promoting healthcare] by addressing some of the issues that affect people’s health including reducing smoking and targeting the potential causes of childhood obesity,” said Best, who is the first woman to hold the title.

Health a priority

“Certainly tobacco smoking is a major issue,” said Best, who insisted she has always been bothered by its presence in the workplace.

“I don’t know if we can eliminate smoking altogether, but I’d like to see us get to the point where it’s just about eliminated and people don’t want to pick up a cigarette any more.”

Eliminating childhood obesity is another priority for the MPP. According to Best, this “preventable disease” has tripled in the last 15 years in Ontario.

“The costs associated with [smoking and childhood obesity] are astronomical, reaching an approximation of $1.6 billion,” she said.

Premier Dalton McGuinty established the Ministry of Health Promotions in June 2005 by taking health promotion initiatives that existed previously in other ministries and merging them with sport and recreation programs.

“It’s the first time in Ontario’s history that there’s been a ministry dedicated solely to promoting healthy lifestyles,” said Greg Flood, a ministry spokesperson.

According to Flood, the ministry’s overall budget for 2007-08 is $373 million. It includes a $10 million action plan called Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL), which is intended to promote a nutritious diet and an increase in physical activity levels.

The HEAL action plan also includes a web-based and telephone calling system called Eat Right Ontario. People can pose questions or concerns to a registered dietician, who would then respond with appropriate advice about healthy eating tips, nutritional facts, and even help create proper lunches for students.

“We’re trying to increase physical activity, better eating, reducing stress and lowering obesity levels among Ontarians, so Ontarians don’t become part of the healthcare system,” Flood said.

“Prevention is really our focus. When it comes to the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care, their focus is treatment.

“We’re trying to make sure that the people of Ontario are not getting into that situation where they have to go to the hospital,” he said.

’Get people active’

Best says she wants to “Get people active so that we can reduce or prevent the incidences of heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.”

As the new minister, she says she tries to lead by example by exercising regularly and staying fit.

“I would like to, in an ideal world, go to the gym three times a week – I do try,” said Best, who added she walks often, and has been getting around by foot even before her appointment as the new minister.

“Every so often, I’ll play something like volleyball or baseball,” added Best, who said she also enjoys swimming and cycling.

“I want to promote good dental health as well, and target the root causes of diseases that can be prevented.”