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Canada competes, but kids are not winning

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/8/2014 (2120 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Canada finished third overall at the recently completed Commonwealth Games, racking up 82 medals, including 32 gold.

But while Canada's elite athletes continue to excel in the international arena, our children are not faring as well when it comes to global comparisons of physical activity levels.

In fact, a new survey by Active Healthy Kids Canada suggests we're downright awful.

Canada ranked 12th out of 15 countries surveyed for the study with a Grade D-, finishing behind countries such as England, Mexico, New Zealand and Mozambique, and dead even with the United States, Australia and Ireland. Only Scotland, with an F, finished lower in the rankings.

The survey was produced by Active Healthy Kids Canada with input from the other countries. It is based on data from three categories: strategies and investments, settings and sources of influence and the behaviours that contribute to overall physical activity levels.

So why does Canada rank so low?

It's not for a lack of sporting infrastructure. The Active Healthy Kids Canada survey report shows Canada ranks quite well when it comes to building facilities. Rather, it is that Canadian kids are simply sitting more and moving less.

Physical activity is important to ensure kids reach their full potential, increase social skills and self-esteem and help their bodies and brains develop. Yet, the report says only five per cent of Canadian children and youth are getting enough daily physical activity for these benefits.

The problem seems to grow as kids get older. The report notes about 84 per cent of children between the ages of three and four get at least 180 minutes of physical activity at any intensity daily. On the other hand, only seven per cent of children between the ages of five and 11 and four per cent of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day.

One reason for this, the report notes, is as a country, we have built a "culture of convenience." We have become experts at finding ways to conserve energy and embrace gadgets that save time.

The unwillingness to engage in active transportation is one example.

Consider this: 58 per cent of Canadian parents walked to school as children. Today, the report shows only 28 per cent of their children do, with many kids getting driven to school by their parents.

The disappearance of unorganized active play for our kids is another reason.

We think providing things like dance recitals and organized sports is enough to make up for the loss of unorganized, active play. But, as the report says, that is often not the case. One study, for example, shows only 24 per cent of kids get a full 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity during one session of soccer.

So what can we do to help our kids become more active?

As the Active Healthy Kids Canada report suggests, we can start by helping our kids get more activity into their daily lives. Let's encourage our kids to use active transportation by walking or riding a bike to school or to visit a friend.

And let's get serious about making sure there is a healthy balance between screen time and unorganized play. Research shows nighttime use of televisions, cellphones and other screens is associated with lower physical activity levels, increased body weight and poor sleep. Parents should limit screen time to less than an hour for kids between two and four years of age, and no more than two hours for children and youth between the ages of five and 17. By limiting screen time and time spent sitting, it gives kids the opportunity to participate in active play.

Growing up, my parents would say, "Go play outside," meaning get outside and play actively. I enjoyed bike rides, skipping, playing on the swings and shooting hoops with my dad in summer and skating, making snowmen and playing street hockey with my three brothers in winter. Whatever the activity, it was active and engaging. I didn't know it then, but it was also setting me up with the basic skills I needed to be a healthy, active adult. Let's do the same for our kids.

Erin Patton is a physical activity promotion co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.


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