Three quarters of Canadian preschoolers are getting enough physical activity to stay healthy, a new Statistics Canada report suggests, but as soon as kids hit age five, the proportion drops to just one-third.
The results of the study, released by the agency on Wednesday, show that 73 per cent of three- and four-year-olds met the benchmark of 180 minutes of any type of physical activity per day. No significant difference was observed between boys and girls.
But among five-year-olds, the recommendation of at least 60 minutes of “moderate-to-vigorous” exercise was met by only 30 per cent of the children studied.
The researchers used “accelerometers,” worn by a total of 865 children aged three to five, to figure out how much physical activity they were actually getting on a daily basis. The results come from two cycles of the Canadian Health Measures Survey.
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“Physical activity among young children is associated with health benefits, including less obesity, motor skill development, psycho-social health and cardio-metabolic health,” a summary of the report notes.
“On the other hand, sedentary behaviour has been linked to increased obesity, and decreased psycho-social and cognitive development.”
Childhood obesity remains a problem in Canada. Between 1978 and 2004, the rate of Canadian kids who were overweight or obese climbed from 23.3 per cent to 34.7 per cent.
But between 2004 and 2013, the rate eased back to 27 per cent, according to a University of Manitoba study published last spring.
Too much screen time?
The Statistics Canada study also looked at how much screen time kids were getting.
Screen-time guidelines in Canada currently sit at no more than one hour a day for three- and four-year-olds, and no more than two hours a day for five-year-olds.
Just 22 per cent of the younger cohort were hitting the target of one hour or less, but the news was better for the five-year-olds. The study found 76 per cent of them were staying within the limit.
Overall, screen time averaged two hours a day for the younger age group, which is far more than is recommended. Time spent in front of a screen for five-year-olds averaged 2.2 hours a day, slightly more than recommended.
The screen-time data was somewhat less reliable, however, as it was parent-reported and not based on independent observation.
“Recall errors, social desirability and not being with the child throughout the day (day care, for example) may influence parents’ answers,” the study notes. “In addition, not all types of screen devices are listed (for example, smartphones, tablets).”
Links to income, education, family size
Statistics Canada said researchers were also able to examine the links between how well a child adhered to the screen time and exercise guidelines, and other characteristics such as their body mass index, household income, household education and whether they had siblings.
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At ages three and four, children in the lowest income households were “significantly less likely” than those in the highest income households to meet physical activity guidelines, Wednesday’s report suggests.
Three and four-year-olds in households with a lower level of education were also significantly less likely than those in households with the highest level of education to meet the screen-time guidelines.
Being an only child also brought disadvantages, it was discovered.
“Five-year-olds who were the lone child in a household were less likely to adhere to screen-time guidelines than those in households with other children,” the study noted.