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Canadian kids receive 'D' for physical activity, COVID-19 to blame

The latest report on how much movement and exercise our children are getting shows marks have dropped significantly since 2020, and the pandemic is getting much of the blame.
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Canadian kids have received some atrocious grades for physical activity.

The latest report on how much movement and exercise our children are getting shows marks have dropped significantly since 2020, and the pandemic is getting much of the blame.

Children and youth get an overall grade of “D” in this year’s ParticipACTION report card, down from a “D+” in the previous release.

“It really shows the immense impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the movement behaviours of children living in Canada,” says Guy Faulkner, a professor of kinesiology at the University of British Columbia who contributed to the research.

“Of course, as well know, at the start of COVID-19 there was a sudden and dramatic shift in the way that kids could access physical activity opportunities, particularly structured opportunities. Physical education in school, school sports, sports competitions and community programming, in general, were all cut.”

Faulkner says only 28 per cent of Canadian children are meeting the “moderate to vigorous” physical activity guideline of 60 minutes per day.

“The pandemic really highlighted how reliant we were, as parents and as a society, on structured opportunities for physical activities for kids. Once we removed that structure, kids didn’t really know what to do. We saw a tremendous increase in the amount of time spent with screens.”

The grade for sedentary behaviour in this year’s report card is an “F”, which is a decrease from a “D+” in 2020.

The report also finds COVID-19 “elevated sedentary screen use into a position of increased prominence and dependence.”

Fewer than one-in-five children and youth meet the Canadian recommendations of no more than two hours per day of recreational screen time.

“The pivot to virtual learning and calls to stay at home transformed kids’ screens from an indulgence into a necessity for education and a default for leisure-time behaviour creating even greater concerns for the many ways that screen time adversely impacts healthy movement behaviours and overall well-being,” reads a release from ParticipACTION.

However, Faulkner feels things are improving since the early days of the pandemic.

“I think kids are probably today, based on the data, still engaging in high amounts of screen time, but we are starting to see physical activity levels moving back toward where they were pre-COVID,” he tells CityNews. “As we have moved back into structured physical activity opportunities, we will see an improvement in this grade for the next report card. What I am perhaps more concerned with is that we might find it very difficult to roll back the amount of screen time that kids are now getting.”

Despite the poor overall grade, there are some bright spots in 2022’s report card, specifically when it comes to active transportation and play.

It finds car-free urban spaces, rural trails and paths, and open-air markets allowed families and kids to walk, roll and ride more.

The grade for active transportation increased to a “C-” and active play improved from an “F” to a “D-“, which ParticipACTION calls “a remarkable feat considering the strain many families experienced during the peak of the pandemic.”

Unfortunately, many opportunities were not experienced in an equitable way.

The report says car-free street spaces were generally in areas with fewer visible minority populations and fewer households with children, and increases in outdoor time were more likely for children in higher-income families.

“We hope this report will serve as a catalyst for heightened awareness on the importance of measuring, promoting and understanding physical activity for equity-deserving children and youth,” says Elio Antunes, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of ParticipACTION. “Improving physical activity for equity-deserving groups will help increase physical activity for all children and youth, which is key to protecting the health and well-being of all throughout the pandemic and in the future.”

Jennifer Wilson, the CEO of Parks and Recreation Ontario, told The Sam Laprade Show on Oct. 11 that the survey shows that young people aren't fine. 

"It's about social connection and positive mental health," she said. "It's about learning new skills and developing confidence and these things are not happening for young people right now."

Wilson said "we need to look at providing access across the province" for programs and services for young people to help not only their physical activity, but for better mental health as well. 

"We need to do better," she said. "We need to increase funding for young people to be able to engage in physical activity in the broader comunities."

Listen to the full interview with Jennifer Wilson below:



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