By Kirk Winter

ParticipACTION and the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance recently came to some troubling conclusions about the health of Canadian children, and their findings need to be taken seriously.

These two groups reported that “Canadian children are spending too much time in front of their screens.” They further shared that children “are not spending enough time involved in heart thumping physical activity.”

The ParticipACTION report for 2018 painted a dire picture for young people and their level of physical activity right across Canada. ParticipACTION gave Canadian children a D+ for their overall level of physical activity.

For children 3 to 4 years old, ParticipACTION is setting a minimum of 180 minutes of physical activity a week. For children 5 to 17, the minimum is upped to 60 minutes a day.

The 2018 report unfortunately discovered that only 62 percent of 3 to 4 year olds reach the activity goals that ParticipACTION set, while the number plummets to 35 percent among 5 to 17 year olds.

ParticipACTION identifies three culprits for this lack of activity:

  • Too much screen time

  • Urbanization

  • Increasing automation of domestic chores

ParticipACTION believes that “some activity is better than none at all,” and that “walking, biking or wheeling to school is a great place to start the habit of physical activity.”

The negative effects of a lack of physical activity are worrying and include cardiovascular health issues, loss of muscle strength, additional body mass and sleep related issues.

The positive effects of physical activity are quite stunning -- children who get their activity are more creative, better able to solve problems, less likely to make mistakes, have better memories, longer attention spans, better self-esteem and are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.

The benefits of physical activity can also be seen equally with children diagnosed with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum disorders.

Dr. Mark Trembly, an Ottawa area physician who works with both ParticipACTION and the Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance, postulated that “Canadian children are facing a childhood inactivity epidemic and we can look to other nations in the world for guidance on this issue.”

Trembly says that “successful countries foster physical activity by pervasive cultural and societal norms.”

Each year ,Active Healthy Kids Global Alliance surveys 49 countries worldwide to determine in the industrialized world whose children are the most active.

In 2018, the most physically active children were Japanese and Slovenian. In Japan this activity rate has been achieved by virtually eliminating busing for school children, and in the context of their densely urbanized nation has made walking or biking to school the accepted way to get there. In Slovenia, a sports mad part of the former Yugoslavia, the identity of the nation is directly tied to sports and success in sports. The rise of Slovenia as a world soccer, basketball and volleyball nation has been noted by the governing bodies of these sports. Slovenia also has a very strong sports club system with heavily subsidized fees so no child is left out from sports for monetary reasons.

ParticipACTION recommends we look at Slovenia’s success and provide additional funding or subsidies for low income Canadian families to access physical activity. ParticipACTION also “urges parents that the removal of outdoor play as punishment is counterproductive to the health and wellbeing of the child who in reality is being punished twice, once for whatever the indiscretion was and a second time for the removal of healthy outdoor activity.”

With 51 percent of Canadian children spending too much time on their electronic devices, both groups recommend that physical activity will be more successful if the whole family is active together and that being outdoors is a powerful antidote for kids facing stress.

We have the data on this public health epidemic. We know what it is doing to our children. It is time we act and provide programming and opportunity before it is too late.