Friday, February 15, 2008

Sports in Canada on the Decline

Statistics Canada has just released its latest report on findings drawn from the General Social Survey (GSS) -- historical data which the governmental body is using to track Canadian trends in a variety of areas...including sports participation! The last report on sport participation in Canada was released in 1998, i.e. before obesity rates had reached crisis mode and before the term "sedentary lifestyle" became a buzz word, so this latest review is particularly important for identifying major problem areas in terms of obesity (and other health related) risk factors. The report focuses primarily on adults, comparing provincial rates and differences among different groups, including gender, age, and socio-economics. It does have a section on kids aged 5-15, however, which I'll summarize below. You can access the full report here. In the meantime, here are some highlights:
- Overall, Canadian participation in sports has declined from 45% in 1992 to 28% in 2005. In 1998, more than a third (34%) of the Canadian population aged 15 and over participated in sports on a regular basis...seven years later, this figure is down to about one quarter.

- Teens aged 15 to 18 have the highest sport participation rate. But even among teens, sports participation is declining, from 77% in 1992 to 59% in 2005. Conversely, Canadians aged 55+ had the lowest participation rate: 17%, down from 25% in 1992. Overall, the study found that as Canadian adults get older, their rate of participation in sport decreases.

- There's still a gender gap in sport participation - men participate more than women. While this gap is closing, it's not because more women are participating in sports, but rather that fewer men are. Whereas in 1998, 43% of men and 26% of women participated in sports, by 2005 the rates had declined to 36% of men and 21% of women.

- Participation in sport has declined in every province except PEI. The biggest drops were in Quebec (which used to led the nation with a rate of 38%) and British Columbia. Quebec has now dropped to 27, and Nova Scotia is now in the lead with over 32%, followed by Alberta with 30%. Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest participation rate of 24%.

- Participation increases with education - the higher the level of education, the higher the rate/likelihood of sporting activity. E.g., Among Canadians aged 15+, those with a high school diploma or less participated in sport at a rate of 25%, those with a postsecondary diploma participated at a rate of 30%, and those with a university degree participated at a rate of 33%.

- And, as would logically follow from the above stat, those with higher income are more likely to participate in sports. The study reveals that "Income has a profound influence on sport participation. Sport participation increases as household income grows." Families with a household income of $80,000+ were twice as likely to participate in sports as those with household incomes of less than $30,000.

- Related to the finding about teens, students are the most active group in Canada. There were also decreases here, however, as participation rates dropped from 64% in 1998 to 51% in 2005. The rate was higher for male students at 59% (down from 76% in 1998).

- "Relaxation" was ranked the most important benefit of sport participation by 73% of active Canadians. Physical health and fitness came second with 68%.

- The study also examined people's reasons for not participating in sports, which differed by sex and age. Among males "lack of time" was given as the primary reason (34%) for non participation in sport, followed by "lack of interest" (23%). Among females, 28% cited lack of interest as the main reason, followed by lack of time (26%).

- Overall, 30% of all non-active Canadians reported "lack of time" as the main reason for not participating in sports, although this rate was higher among 25-to-34 year olds (45%). For older non-active Canadians (aged 55+), 28% cited "age" as the biggest factor for not participating in sport, followed by "health conditions" (25%) and "lack of interest" (25%).

- And, according to the data, "lack of time" is not just an excuse...the study found that among non-participants who gave "lack of time" as their main reason for not participating in sport had: less free time; worked more hours (spending nearly twice as much time on paid work as other non-participants); and spent less time on sleep, meals and other personal care than those who gave other reasons. "They also watched less television, socialized less and spent less time reading books, magazines and newspapers than other non-participants."

In terms of these last items, I think that it's pretty obvious that this "lack of time" dimension is also tied into income. However, the study also found that Canadians overall have less leisure time than we did a decade ago, declining 5% from 6.1 hours per day in 1998 to 5.8 hours per day in 2005...18 minutes less leisure time, which is significant when you consider the "30 minutes of physical activity per day" watermark for good health.

The study also has some great info about Canadian kids aged 5 to 14, including:
- Soccer is the number one sport of choice for Canadian children, among both boys and girls -- who now tie at the same participation rate of 44%. (Followed by ice hockey, swimming and baseball).

- Overall, boys are more actively involved in sport than girls = 55% vs. 44%. However, while boys' participate rate has decreased (from 59%) since 1998, girls have maintained the same level of participation.

- Household income continues to be a major determinant of sport participation for children. Only 43% of children from households in the lower income range (under $40,000) participate in sports, compared to 63% among children from households with incomes of over $80,000.

- Parents' sports participation remains a very significant determinant of children's sports participation. Participation rates among children with neither parent involved in sports is only 35%, compared to 57% if at least one parent is an active participant. Furthermore, when at least one parent participates in sports as an administrator, their children’s participation rates jump to 80%.

- Living in a single-parent household has almost no impact on children's sports participation rates (despite lower income averages among single-parent households, which I assume the study has controlled for in its data analysis). As the study describes, "Regardless of family structure, children of sport participants participate more in sport. It is also possible that parents of active kids tend to participate themselves."

Of course, the cross-comparisons and correlations examined in the report don't include things like media consumption or quality/quantity of in-school phys ed programs, but it's a good starting point for reflection about changing trends within Canadian/Western culture. I must also point out, however, that although I'm completely convinced that sports participation is decreasing, I think that we also need to question the way in which "sports" is defined within this survey -- taking note of those activities that have been excluded. For example, the study excludes dance, aerobics, jogging and many other physical activities with large proportions of female participants, which have instead been labeled as "leisure activities"...whereas activities such as bowling and canoeing are included. The emphasis in this study is on competitive, and usually team, sporting activities, which means that competitive martial arts such as karate are counted, but non-competitive forms such as kung fu are not. While this may not seem to be that big a deal, I think that the exclusion of female-dominated activities (such as dance) are particularly problematic. I would also recommend comparing some of these stats with an article written by Leanne C. Findlay and Dafna E. Kohen appearing in last year's issue of Pimatisiwin: A Journal of Aboriginal and Indigenous Community Health, which focuses specifically on sports participation among aboriginal children.

I'm sensing some rumblings on the Canadian policy front re: child obesity, and it will be interesting to see how this study factors in. In the meantime, here are links to some of the Canadian news coverage of the study:

Globe and Mail
Winnipeg Sun
CTV news
The Kingston Whig-Standard

You can also read the Stats Can press releasehere.

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