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COMMENTARY: Canadian kids bring home terrible fitness report card

Fitness expert Lee Boyce gives his thoughts on a Participaction study that show Canadians kids aren't as active as they should be

Anyone who went to school in Canada during the 1970’s surely remembers ParticipACTION.

A national non-profit government initiative, ParticipACTION was an endeavour meant to rally and partially shame Canadians to become more active with the goal being long-term savings in health care.

Adult Canadians were stunned by a now legendary TV commercial that negatively compared the health of the average 30-year old Canuck to a 60-year old Swede.

I remember my parents looking forlorn every time the commercial aired; it always happened when they were in their eighth hour of assembling an IKEA Fluderakea desk. To this day I believe the Swedes intentionally used IKEA’s Byzantine assembly instructions to lull Canadians into hours of frustration while our blood pressure spiked and waistlines expanded.

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In school, the annual ParticipACTION season was two weeks of intensive competition in the gym. Today, the gym is where kids assemble wearing their “inside shoes” to hold assemblies to discuss the latest progressive social policies cooked up at the Boards of Education.

READ MORE: Why is Canada ranked 19th out of 50 countries on kids fitness?

Back in my day, when the gyms reeked of sweat, successes and failures instead of philosophy, we were climbing ropes, running laps and furiously doing sit-ups. We all wanted the highest ParticipACTION badge. There were four: Excellence, Gold, Silver and Bronze.

If you washed out, you got a pin you would immediately throw away.  Today, every kid would get a pin. There would be no badges. Too competitive, too exclusive, too expensive.

Which brings us to the recent 2018 ParticipACTION report card on the fitness of Canadian children. Final grade: D-Plus.

READ MORE: Swedish ‘plogging’ fitness craze is now sweeping the streets in Canada

An improvement over the D-Minus issued for the past 3 years, but hardly a report card you’d bring home to mom if it was a math grade.

ParticipACTION was cancelled some years ago so the Canadian Navy could buy a destroyer, but it was revived as a reminder, I believe, to parents that they’re doing a generally horrible job on the kid’s fitness front.

And that’s not fair.

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I know I will get blowback from my observation, but I don’t see a lot of fat kids in this country.

I understand that “fitness” is more than just body weight. I was on a Disney cruise a few years ago and I could tell the Canadian kids from the American kids just by watching both groups play. Our kids seemed in better shape and were more than willing to spend an extra hour around the pool while the American kids were disappearing below deck to the XBox lounge.

Manitoba grandma completes ParticipACTION 150 list with a twist
Manitoba grandma completes ParticipACTION 150 list with a twist

WATCH: Manitoba grandma completes ParticipACTION 150 list with a twist

Do our kids spend too much time on their devices? Yes. I notice it in my home when I lift my eyes from my iPad and see the blue screen glow underneath their bedroom door.

But a D-Plus in fitness? My 16-year-old stepson walks everywhere he needs to go and his 10-year-old brother just hurt his arm furiously pedalling his scooter to a buddy’s house. Probably to play XBox, but, whatever.

My one wish would be that parents let kids have more free time to play. Cancel the hockey, softball, dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, judo, skating classes you book only to whine to other parents about how little time YOU have to shuttle YOUR kids to activities.

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The healthy, low-cost kid competition that was ParticipACTION in the ’70s has been replaced by adults competing with their chequebooks. Half the time they don’t even keep score.

Staying on the fitness track while vacationing
Staying on the fitness track while vacationing

WATCH: Staying on the fitness track while vacationing

The ParticipACTION survey seems to be an annual scare tactic to boost funding.  Thousands of phys-ed teachers are underemployed and getting down on one knee every night to list the specials to Keg Restaurant customers. Kick the kids outside more? Sure. Your nine-year-old wants a drive 300 metres to a friend’s house? Tell them to walk. But don’t dismiss them all as weak and “chubby.”

Or as the Swedes would say: “Knubbig.”

Mike Stafford is co-host of The Morning Show on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.