Canadian kids get failing grade for physical activity
Canadian schoolchildren are getting poor grades over how much, or how little, physical activity they get on a daily basis.
Active Healthy Kids Canada issued its 2011 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth Tuesday, and Canadian youth received an "F" for how much so-called "active play" they engage in every day.
According to the report card, only seven per cent of Canadian youth and children get the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. Only nine per cent of boys and a mere four per cent of girls meet the guidelines, the report said.
During the after-school period between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., Canadian kids are getting only 14 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise.
Dr. Mark Tremblay, Chief Scientific Officer of Active Healthy Kids Canada, told CTV.ca that the after-school period is one of the best times for kids to engage in physical activity.
"They need a break from school after sitting in classes for six or seven hours," he said. "It's a time when everybody is out and about, it's still light out so it is safer than other times of the day."
He says kids should be making a remarkable change to the typical pattern of coming home, sitting in front of the couch, watching TV and engaging in other sedentary activities.
"Focusing on the after-school period as a window of opportunity to try to overcome inactivity in children and the obesity crisis we're seeing is worth exploring."
The report card assigned 23 grades, including:
- F for Active Play
- D for Active Transportation
- C- for Physical Education
- D+ for Family Physical Activity
- D- for Municipal Policies and Regulations
The report noted that safety concerns contribute to parents preventing children from taking part in outdoor physical activity after school.
"Often they say they won't let their kids play alone outside or far from home because of safety concerns," said Dr. Tremblay.
"We cocoon kids indoors to keep them safe."
He says that modern or "hyper" parenting has created an environment that is becoming more and more risk adverse.
"There is a feeling that this is good practice because the kids are safe and they're in the home," he said.
"However they're being sedentary -- stopping bumps and bruises but accelerating what will ultimately kill them."
Dr. Tremblay is referring to chronic disease and diabetes, as well as other serious health risks, that will not only affect kids in the future, but now.
"Increasingly we're finding there are acute effects," he said.
"Being sedentary does seem to be related with lower academic achievement, increased aggressiveness, an increase in blood sugar levels, blood fat lipid levels -- all related to heart disease and diabetes."
There has been an especially worrisome growth in the number of kids being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes -- which was called adult onset diabetes in the past. The name had to be changed because it does not solely affect adults anymore.
"This reflects a biological malfunction, when you move very little, the system malfunctions."
Though concern for safety is one contributing factor to this lack of exercise, Dr. Tremblay says the fact that there are so many enticing entertainment opportunities in the house is the biggest problem.
He says that almost every home in the country has high-speed Internet, at least two computers, VCRs, DVDs, video game units -- all appealing indoor activities that require no physical activity.
"There needs to be a reconnection with the outdoors and basic movement skills, for social and emotional benefits," he said.
He noted that homework might be a barrier for high school students after school but that for most elementary school students, it is not a problem.
Regardless, he noted that kids spend six hours a day in front of screens not doing homework, and this needs to be broken up to include some time outdoors.
"Homework can be done actively, why can't you study history with a friend while taking the dog for a walk around the neighborhood? Our brains don't stop working the minute we stand up from a chair."
Dr. Tremblay believes the next step forward is for the government to get involved.
"We currently have no physical activity plan in the country, most of our peer countries do," he said.
"We need to have that. We need a clear plan to reverse the very dangerous and scary results we're seeing right now to ensure a greater future for our kids."
He also noted that parents and teachers could become better role models and become physically active. They should also familiarize themselves with Canada's Physical Activity Guidelines.
Teachers can include more active learning in the classroom as well.
"There are a number of things you can do to introduce physical activity to education. They need to stop thinking that school and homework need to be done in a chair."