It’s a big fat “D-” on Canada’s report card… at least as far as making sure our kids get enough exercise.
That’s the conclusion of the latest report from ParticipACTION, the non-profit charged with promoting healthy living in the country — and it’s the fourth time we’ve earned the failing grade.
So what’s the problem, are Canadian kids tired or lazy? Or have we created a system that keeps all but the ultra-competitive out of sport?
LISTEN: Are we letting our kids down when it comes to active time?
The new report found just 9% of Canadian kids aged 5-17 were getting an hour of good exercise every day, and handed out an “F” for sedentary behaviours, a “D” for active transportation, and a “D+” for active play.
Dr. Mark Tremblay, lead researcher on the report says there’s no good reason for kids to be so inactive.
“We choose not to, it’s not because we can’t. Because peer countries and other countries around the world do this. And their kids thrive, and they’re doing better than us at keeping them healthy through physical activity,” he says.
Dr Tom Warshawski is a paediatrician and the chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation and says Canadians do face some unique challenges – we’re one of the most wired countries in the world, with 95% of homes connected to the web and 85% of grade 12’s packing smartphones – meaning plenty of opportunity to be sedentary.
And he adds it’s cold here – meaning we spend a lot of time inside, and in cars and buses rather than walking or biking.
Free to play
But are we making enough of an effort to ensure our kids have the chance to be active?
Vancouver mother Sarah Blyth says no – an opinion she developed after her grade eight son was told he couldn’t play on his high school basketball team.
My kid got turned down for the basketball team at school. I can't imagine saying no to kids who want to play a game. #vanpoli— sarah blyth (@sarahblyth) November 15, 2016
I'm with all the kids who get turned down for sports teams. You suck at bouncing a ball go play video games... #vanpoli— sarah blyth (@sarahblyth) November 15, 2016
How will kids get good at basketball if they can't play? #vanpoli— sarah blyth (@sarahblyth) November 15, 2016
It’s an intriguing proposition – are we putting an overemphasis on competition among youth, to the point where those who can’t perform at a high level are pushed to the side?
Warshawski admits that’s a concern.
“If you look at the countries that do best in the Olympic games – the United States almost always gets the most medals, they have one of the highest rates of overweight and obesity on the planet. They are a spectator culture,” he says.
Warshawski says instead of focusing on high performance, we might do well to have a look at the approach countries like Slovenia take to physical activity in schools.
“It is not so much about the sports team but it is about everybody participating in enjoyable physical activity led by qualified practitioners.”
Warshawski says in Slovenia schools are specifically funded to include active time for all students, a scheme that’s paid off for the student body.
And he says it’s a lesson we’d do well to learn — both in terms of ensuring our kids are healthier, and ensuring they’re performing better as students.
“That’s important for mental health, it’s really important for learning, kids who are active every day learn better. And I think it’s actually indefensiblee that all the private schools have mandatory daily physical activity, whereas almost none of the public schools do, certainly beyond the elementary school years,” he says.