Almost one-third of Canadian children and youth are overweight or obese, while only nine per cent of those aged five to 17 meet the guideline of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day at least six days a week.
Ottawa, November 1, 2016—Almost one-third of Canadian children and youth are overweight or obese, while only nine per cent of those aged five to 17 meet the guideline of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day at least six days a week.
A new report produced by The Conference Board of Canada’s Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care finds that schools, particularly elementary and high schools, are ideal locations to help children and youth change their behaviour about physical activity.
“Physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour are major contributors to chronic disease and Canadian children are spending an increasing amount of time sitting, whether in the classroom or in front of a screen at home,” said Thy Dinh, Director, Health Economics, The Conference Board of Canada. “Our report shows that schools play an important role in helping children form healthy and active living habits at an early age.”
- Just nine per cent of Canadian children and youth aged five to 17 meet the guideline of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day at least six days a week.
- Increasing physical activity participation includes changes to the physical education curriculum, classroom activity breaks, active commuting to school, and modified playgrounds.
- Schools are increasingly targeting screen time, as part of a larger effort to reduce sedentary behaviour.
The report, Moving Ahead: School-Based Interventions to Reduce Physical Inactivity and Sedentary Behaviour, finds that additions or changes to the physical education curriculum were the most effective at increasing physical activity among children and youth, and provides recommendations on how schools can help them change their behaviour.
Recommendations for schools to implement include the following:
- Physical education curriculum: Physical education policies differ greatly across Canada with only some provinces and territories setting daily requirements. Integrating physical activity into the curriculum, including new teaching methods (e.g., tactical gameplay) has demonstrated effectiveness in increasing daily physical activity.
- Classroom activity breaks: Taking activity breaks either between or within lessons is proven to have a high impact on increasing physical activity. This low cost, low burden intervention does not increase teacher preparation time or decrease time spent on core subject curriculum.
- Active commuting to school: Walking or cycling to and from school can increase children’s physical activity levels. This cost-effective activity can be implemented with varying resource levels; however, it tends to be more effective among older children in neighbourhoods within a safe walking distance to school.
- Modified playgrounds: Making changes to the playground infrastructure and increasing the availability of non-fixed equipment has been found to significantly increase physical activity at recess periods. However, modified playground requirements, while effective in the short term, may be costly or lose their novelty in the long term.
- Screen time: As part of a larger effort to reduce sedentary behaviour, initiatives aimed at reducing screen time could be integrated into school curriculum.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for this issue and initiatives should take into account capacity, resources, and demographics of individual school environments and encourage the active involvement of parents or caregivers.
The Conference Board of Canada’s Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC) research series Moving Ahead: Healthy Active Living in Canada will comprise several research briefings that aim to identify cost-effective, scalable and sustainable interventions to promote and improve healthy active living. The goal of this work is to fill the gaps in knowledge and practice, and to engage government, employers, and all Canadians in working toward a culture of healthy active living.
Federal, provincial, and territorial governments (excluding Quebec) want to hear from parents, professionals, businesses, NGOs, and other Canadians, as they embark on a process to develop a physical activity framework. Please complete the online survey by November 21, 2016, and share with others who would like to have a voice in the consultation process.
Join Thy Dinh as she discusses school-based physical activity and sedentary behaviour interventions that are cost-effective and could be scaled across Canada in a webinar on December 8, 2016 titled Stopping Sedentary School Kids: Getting Kids to Move More and Sit Less.