Even the youngest of Canada's children -- those under the age of five -- are dangerously inactive, says a new report released Tuesday.

The 2010 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth finds that even Canadian toddlers are baby couch potatoes, with less than half of kids under five are getting regular physical activity as part of their daily routines.

The report notes that children between the ages of one and five should participate in at least two hours of physical activity each day, mostly through unstructured active play.

Instead, many kids under five are spending about 89 per cent of the day sedentary, instead of running around.

Already, the report notes, 21.5 per cent of Canadian children aged two to five are either overweight or obese, putting many on the path to a lifetime of inactivity and weight problems.

"Studies show that children who are obese before six are likely to be obese later in childhood, and it's estimated that overweight two- to five-year-olds are four times as likely to become overweight as adults," Dr. Mark Tremblay, the chief scientific officer for Active Healthy Kids Canada noted in a news release.

And of course, it's not just toddlers, who aren't moving around enough. The report card notes Canadian kids of all ages continue to spend more time on the couch than outside.

Among the 21 grades assigned in the 2010 Report Card, key grades include:

  • Active Play: "F"
  • Physical Education: "C-"
  • Family Physical Activity: "D"
  • Proximity & Accessibility to Physical Activity Facilities: "B"
  • Usage of Facilities, Programs, Parks & Playgrounds: "D"

Canada's kids got an "F" for Physical Activity Levels for the fourth year in a row, because only 12 per cent of Canadian children and youth are meeting Canada's physical activity guidelines of 90 minutes a day.

The authors say they've seen little progress in meeting the target of 17 per cent by 2015 that was set by provincial and territorial government ministers responsible for physical activity, recreation and sport.

And while 20 per cent of boys aged 5 to 10 years old and 15 per cent of boys aged 11 to 14 years are meeting the activity guidelines, the same can be said of only five per cent of adolescent girls.

The proportion of children and youth achieving 60 minutes of physical activity a day is a little better: 31 per cent are meeting that target. But that still means the majority of kids are not even meeting that target.

Too much time in front of screens

In other areas of the report card, Canadian kids are given an "F" grade for Screen Time, since 90 per cent of children are still spending too much time in front of television, computer and video screens.

"We're cocooning inside the house, usually around some sort of media screen," Tremblay told CTV's Canada AM Tuesday. "Evidence shows that the amount of time kids are spending sedentary in front of screens in on the rise."

The group cites research that shows that kids are now spending six hours a day in front of screens on weekdays and more than seven hours on weekend days.

"So it's dominating the amount of time that kids have available to them, and at the expense of what would have been in the past active leisure play," Tremblay said.

The report card notes that while research has found that kids living with household rules that limit screen use are exposed to nearly three hours less screen time per day than those who don't have rules, only 28 per cent of Canadian children report having rules about how long they're allowed to watch TV.

As well, while children under age two should spend no time in front of screens at all, 90 per cent of children begin watching TV before their second birthday, the report says.

Schools still not stressing physical activity

The report card says schools are still not doing enough to get kids moving, giving Sport and Physical Activity Opportunities at School a "C-."

"We have huge variation in physical education," Tremblay explained.

"Some places are doing a fabulous job; some places are not doing so well. The legislation and rules between provinces, and the application of those rules vary enormously. So some kids are getting a great physical education experience, others are getting a very poor experience."

This year's Report Card also assigns an "F" for investment from the federal government, down from last year's "C" grade.

"While we are seeing some success stories and some national commitments to encouraging sport and activity, spending at the federal level in real dollars per capita is half the amount that it was in 1986," Active Healthy Kids Canada CEO Michelle Brownrigg said in a statement.

"We need to follow Michelle Obama's lead with the Let's Move campaign and put child and youth inactivity higher on the national agenda."

The report notes that federal government's Canadian Fitness Tax Credit appears to be yielding most of its benefit to middle and upper income families, even though it was aimed at lower income families.

Active Healthy Kids Canada annual report card is compiled by researchers who review a range of data from Statistics Canada and published literature, and is produced in partnership with ParticipACTION and the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute – Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO).