Canada gets D- in annual active kids report


The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth says kids need room to move.

Active Healthy Kids Canada 2014“This is the 10th Anniversary of the most current and comprehensive annual assessment of the physical activity of children and youth in Canada. Over the past decade, interest in the issue has increased, yet the global childhood physical inactivity crisis remains unresolved. Motivated by the opportunity to share interests and challenges worldwide, Active Healthy Kids Canada led 14 other countries from across five continents to work together to compare how we are doing and to seek solutions. Research teams from each country have consolidated multiple data sources, based on the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card framework, to reveal the first-ever global matrix of grades on the physical activity of children and youth. For the first time, this Report Card reveals how Canada stacks up against 14 other countries to show where we are leading and lagging internationally.”

Canada rated best in the area of Community and the Built Environment, with a B+, with C+ in School and in Organized Sport Participation. Despite this sophisticated level of infrastructure, Canada’s Overall Physical Activity levels are at a dismal D-, trailing the pack along with Australia, Ireland, the USA and Scotland. “Even though 84% of Canadian kids aged 3-4 are active enough to meet guidelines, this falls to only 7% of kids meeting guidelines at ages 5-11 and only 4% meeting guidelines at ages 12-17”.

“The question is, if our policies, places and programs are well developed, why is this not translating into enough activity for our kids? It seems that we have built it, but they are not coming. Canada lags behind most of the international groups in Active Transportation (D) and Sedentary Behaviours (F)":

  • 62% of Canadian parents say their kids aged 5-17 years are always driven to and from school (by car, bus, transit, etc.).
  • Canadian kids aged 3-4 spend 5.8 hours a day being sedentary, those aged 5-11 spend 7.6 hours and those aged 12-17 spend 9.3 hours."

The report concludes that Canada has developed a “culture of convenience” that values efficiency (e.g. driving to school rather than walking or biking), which may be at direct odds with promoting children’s health. “We have engineered opportunities for spontaneous movement (such as getting to places on foot and playing outdoors) out of our kids daily lives,” and the evidence shows that “Canadian parents look to structured activities to get their kids moving.”

One element of the report that highlights the relational losses that accompany this professionalization of play is that “79% of parents contribute financially to their kids’ physical activities (through equipment, fees, etc.) but only 37% of parents often play actively with their children.”

The report goes into detail breaking down the actual physical activity components of organized team sports:

  • “One study shows only 24% of kids got a full 60 minutes of moderate/ vigorous activity in one session of soccer, and only 2% got this at softball practice.
  • Kids on hockey teams spend close to half of the time during practices in moderate/vigorous activity, but in an actual game they are sedentary nearly a third of the time.”

These figures are even more significant when one considers that in organized team sports, as well as school sports and PE activities, the strongest athletes are often disproportionally represented in active participation time within practices and games.

The report notes that, “in Canada, there is a tendency to build more, do more and impose more structure”, but suggests that these approaches can be counter-productive. “In New Zealand, which leads the pack with a B in Overall Physical Activity and a B in Active Play, university researchers created a global media storm in early 2014 with preliminary reports of a study looking at ways to encourage active play in children. When four elementary schools banned all safety-based playground rules, not only did the students get more active, the administrators reported an immediate drop in bullying, vandalism and injuries.”

As reported in the May 2014 Keeping in Touch Newsletter, Chris Rowan, author of Ten Steps to Successfully Unplug Children From Technology, strongly believes that over-concern with safety needs and fear of litigation has made a great deal of urban outdoor play areas boring and unchallenging. Chris says, “Outdoor rough and tumble play is a biological need for children, and has been proven to significantly reduce problematic behaviours, aggression, and attention deficit, as well as improve depression and anxiety.”

The report concludes that, “to increase daily physical activity level for all kids, we must encourage the accumulation of physical activity throughout a child’s day, and consider a mix of opportunities (e.g. sport, active play, active transportation). In some cases we may need to step back and do less. Developed societies such as Canada must acknowledge that children need room to move.”