Friday, June 20, 2008

Canadian Kids Fail to Meet Physical Activity Guidelines, Again

While child obesity rates might be leveling off in the US and France (yay!), the overall health of kids in Canada continues to provide cause for serious concern (if not outright alarm). According to the 2008 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, released last month by Active Healthy Kids Canada (along with the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute - Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (CHEO-HALO) and ParticipACTION), 90 per cent of Canadian children and youth currently don't meet the guidelines outlined in Canada's Physical Activity Guides for Children and Youth. In the accompanying press release, the organization identified "screen time" as one of the key culprits in kids' declining health, describing:
Instead of being physically active, young Canadians are spending an alarming amount of time in front of television, computer and video screens. In fact, the average child aged 10 to 16-years-old reports screen time up to three times longer than recommended guidelines. Children in this age group are typically spending six hours a day in front of some type of screen, which is the equivalent to 42 hours a week or more than a parent's full work week. And, it's not just children and youth. The Report Card revealed that preschool-aged children are not following their recommended screen times with many spending two hours a day in front of a screen.

Their argument is a fairly straightforward one: screen time = inactivity, which is leading to various problems associated with both weight gain and lack of exercise.
"At a younger and younger age, children are becoming dependent on electronic devices as their sources of entertainment and activity," says Michelle Brownrigg, Chief Executive Officer, Active Healthy Kids Canada (Toronto). "Getting our children active needs to be a collaborative effort. Governments, industry, communities, schools and parents all need to share the responsibility of replacing sedentary time with active play."

The Report adopts a pretty comprehensive approach, giving grades to various aspects of kids' lives that impact upon their opportunities for physical activity (and likelihood of being physically active and healthy). For example, the report card gave families a "D" for their perceptions and roles regarding physical activity, a "D" to the proportion of kids and youth actively commuting to and from school, a "D" to the proportion of kids actually using parks and playgrounds regularly, and a "D" to the existence of by-laws hindering physical activity. On the other hand, parents were awarded a "B" for support and encouragement of their kids' physical activity. Overall, it appears that while screen time may indeed be replacing physical activity, there are also many other dimensions to consider here, including lack of community support and very few opportunities for physical activity built into kids' daily schedules.

The Report also provides a set of recommendations for parents, teachers, health professionals, policy-makers and researchers, and call on these various groups to get more involved in the "battle against youth physical inactivity." Some of their key recommendations include:

* Limiting screen time

* Creating as many opportunities for free play as possible [awesome]

* Not relying on 'active' video games like Wii Fit as a source of physical activity

This last recommendation likely ties into statements made by Active Healthy Kids Canada and University of Calgary professor Nicholas Holt reported in the Canadian press this past April, on the Wii and exergames and their effectiveness in getting kids to become more active. Their conclusions were that although "exergames" are a "positive step" and better for kids than just sitting and watching TV (or gaming), "real" physical activity and exercise are still by far the best options.

I wonder if similar findings will emerge from these other countries as well...that the leveling off of child obesity rates (still not a decrease, by the way) doesn't necessarily translate into better overall health and physical activity rates.

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