May 22, 2014 7:03 pm

Canada scores a D- in childhood activity levels

Above: Jackson Proskow reports on childhood obesity: what’s causing it and how to break the trend. 

There’s no dispute that our children are not getting enough physical activity. Obesity rates are soaring, along with the time children spend looking at screens. “Canada is getting a D- when it comes to physical activity levels,” says Jen Coeiw-Bonne of Active Healthy Kids Canada. “We’re trailing at the back of the pack with other developed countries.”

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Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines state that children aged 12-17 should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily. Realistically the average child is getting much less. Just 4 percent of children meet the requirement.

Ontario is one of only three provinces with an education curriculum requiring “the huffing and puffing kind of physical activity,” says Cowie-Bonne.

In Ontario the so-called daily physical activity (DPA) requirement of 20 minutes has proven a lofty goal. A 2012 study by the University of Toronto found that of 900 children outfitted with accelerometers, not one was getting their 20 minutes of exercise, and fewer than half were getting any DPA.

“We need minimum increments of at least 10 minutes or more and that’s where the daily physical activity policy has a lot of merit, it can actually contribute to what we need every day,” says Cowie-Bonne.

Ontario’s DPA requirement was brought in by the McGuinty government in 2005. In the current election campaign DPA has become a talking point. The Tories have proposed increasing the requirement to 45 minutes. The New Democrats would keep it at 20 minutes, but propose hiring 1,000 new physical education and health teachers because most schools do not meet the existing requirement.

University of Toronto researcher Dr. Guy Faulkner warns it may not be as simple as setting a number of minutes in a given day. “In some respects the 20 minute DPA was an unrealistic target,” said Faulkner, citing a lack of accountability, “we need to look at how we (can) implement this more effectively.”

There’s nearly universal agreement that schools cannot be the only source of physical activity for children, instead they are one part of a child’s daily exercise. However, there’s extra incentive for schools to make sure they provide physical activity where possible. According to Dr. Faulkner, “opportunities for more spontaneous physical activity,” such as walking to school, “are slowly being engineered out of the day.”

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