Canada Given Poor Grades on Physical Activity Report Card

Active Healthy Kids Canada has released its 2014 report on active children in Canada, and the results are not good. Despite well-developed public and private physical activity infrastructure and opportunities, Canada continues to lag, earning a dismal D- in this year’s report.

“Overdeveloped” Lifestyles and Structure

On the bright side, 84% of children aged 3-4 are reaching the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines of 180 minutes of any level of physical activity throughout the day. Unfortunately, there is steep decline in older age groups; only 7% of kids aged 4-11 get enough physical activity, a number that drops even further to 4% amongst 12-17 year olds.

The problem is not a lack of playgrounds or parks. According to the report, Canada has reasonably well developed physical infrastructure, with 95% of students having access to a gymnasium, 91% to playing fields, and 73% to playground equipment. There’s also plenty of physical activity programming available, including physical education classes and recreational recesses. Interestingly, this heavy investment in building and scheduling may actually be part of the problem. Rather than being undeveloped in terms of physical activity, we have become “overdeveloped.” Thanks to the omnipresent threat of safety concerns and parental litigation, physical activity is relegated to gymnasiums, physical education classes and after-school sports. Meanwhile, spontaneous movement in the forms of active transport (walking or biking to school) and unstructured play is being abandoned.

Active Children Come From Active Families

There’s plenty of blame to go around for Canada’s dismal grades. For one, although districts across Canada list physical activity as a public health priority, government programs continue to display a lack of progress in their completion and evaluation. As a result, Canada received a C grade in the category of Government Strategies and Investments.

Government failure is not the sole source of concern, though. We fared even worse when it came to sedentary behaviours, such as too much screen time. The Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines suggest a maximum of one-hour screen time for young children and two hours for school-aged children and youth. Yet in some cases Canadian children are spending over nine hours daily in sedentary activity, resulting in an abysmal F rating.
Moreover, the routinized nature of our “overdeveloped” physical activity framework has habituated Canadian parents to using educational programming and structured activities to keep their children physically active. 82% of parents believe there needs to be improvement in physical education at schools. Additionally, 79% help out by buying equipment or paying fees, and 64% of parents take their children to physical activities often or very often. Unfortunately, that is the extent of parental involvement in their children’s active lives. A mere 37% of parents actively play with their children, demonstrating the importance of educating parents as well as children in the importance of physical activity.

The 2014 Report Card at a glance

• Organized Sport Participation: C+
• Active Play: INC (Incomplete)
• Active Transportation: D
• Sedentary Behaviours: F
• Family and Peers: C
• School: C+
• Community and the Built Environment: B+
• Government Strategies and Investments: C
• Overall Physical Activity: D-

In the past ten years, Canada scored a marginally better D in 2004 and 2005 before failing six consecutive times. This is the second year in a row Canada has scored a D-.

Resources

All information comes from the long form 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Both the long and short form report cards, as well as communications tools for instructors and health and fitness professionals, are available at the Active Healthy Kids Canada Website.

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