Grades Like This Would Get Most Of Us In Trouble

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

When I received an email earlier this week announcing the release of the 2011 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity, my reaction was one of surprise. ”Already? It doesn’t seem as if it’s been that long.”, I thought. However, it has. A year has passed since I wrote a column featuring the results of the 2010 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity. What’s changed since then?

Unfortunately, not much. While many organizations and people across Canada are working hard to encourage kids and youth to be active, the fact remains that a minute amount of Canadian youth and children are meeting the physical activity guidelines, warranting an ”F” for physical activity levels on the Active Healthy Kids Report Card on Physical Activity for the fifth year in a row.

Only 7% of Canadian youth and children (ladies, note that this is an average that disguises the seriousness of the problem for girls– a mere 4% of girls fulfill the recommendation) fulfill the recommendation of engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity for a minimum of sixty minutes a day (previously, ninety minutes a day were recommended).

What advice does Active Healthy Kids Canada give to Canadian families and communities who’d like to remedy their poor marks? Three main suggestions are maximize after-school opportunities, use active transportation, and reduce screen time (a fourth suggestion is made to the government– invest in physical activity).

On the Active Healthy Kids Canada website, an image of a child walking home from the bus stop with a parent is shown, accompanied by the caption ”Don’t let this be the most physical activity our kids get after school.”

The after-school hour period, that time between the end of the school day and parents’ arrival from work around suppertime (approximately 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.), is an opportunity for kids and youth to be active, playing outside with friends and participating in afterschool activities. However, it appears that on average, out of the three hours that compose the afterschool hours, only fourteen minutes are spent being physically active.

Granted, physical activity isn’t the only ”good” activity that kids and youth can partake in after school. However, how many young children actually spend three hours every afternoon after school absorbed by their homework, practicing the piano, or having meaningful chats with parents and friends? Increasing the time kids and youth spend being physically active after school won’t replace the time they spend doing other beneficial activities. Rather, it will help them be healthier and happier and more efficient at school and at their favorite activities.

Increasing the use of active transportation—using methods like walking, jogging, and biking to go from one place to another—in order to increase physical activity is a no-brainer for anyone who’s had the experience of walking to school as a child. When I was in early elementary school, my family lived a few blocks away from my school and consequentially, my younger brother and I walked to and from school every day. It wasn’t a very long walk. It was perhaps around 10 to 15 minutes in duration, a total of 20 to 30 minutes for a round trip. What makes active transportation significant is that it necessitates daily physical activity and doesn’t feel like exercise, which means that it won’t stop you from being active after getting home.

Of course, active transportation isn’t a viable option for many children and teens. Oftentimes, schools, part-time jobs, shopping centers, churches, and all the other places kids and teens need to visit regularly are too far away to reach by foot or by bike. Other times, even though destinations are near-by, it is more convenient to reach them by car because of bad weather, heavy loads of equipment (musical instrument, gym bag, book bag, lunch bag, etc.), and lack of time (why spend an hour walking to get somewhere when a parent or friend can drop you off in fifteen minutes if they’re heading in the same direction?). Therefore, while children, teens, and their families who can realistically use active transportation have a lot to gain by doing so, active transportation isn’t a solution to lack of physical activity for everyone.

As far as screen time goes, if you’re spending more than two hours a day staring at a screen of some sort, it’s too much. Are you thinking, ”Wow. I probably spend about three times that amount using the computer/watching TV/playing video games.”? You’re not unusual– on average, kids and teens spend six hours in front of a screen daily.

The Active Healthy Kids recommendation that hit home for me was the recommendation regarding reducing the amount of time spent in front of a screen in a vegetative state.  Personally, I am definitely guilty of over-indulging in screen time. I don’t watch TV and don’t play virtual games, but rare is the day that my computer is left untouched. I use my computer to read and answer emails and messages, surf the web, and write articles like this one.

Analyzing how I spend my time on the computer, I don’t feel as if it is unjustified and it doesn’t keep me from being physically active, although it could be argued that I would be more physically active if I didn’t have access or if I had limited access to non-active types of activities through the computer.

I’m prone to be sidetracked while completing tasks on the computer, but it’s mostly because I refresh my email several times an hour when I’m expecting a message and because I depend on the internet as one of my primary sources of news (the T & T being my other primary source of news, of course). If I were to completely stop using my computer, it is likely that I would use my newly available time in the real world in the same fashion I used my time on the computer– I’d work on articles and research upcoming projects, occasionally being distracted by phone calls and letters, reading news articles and books, and talking to friends and family.

However, even if time spent on the computer is wisely spent, I think that fellow teens and I could benefit from learning to live without our computers, cell phones, TVs, etc. Spending several hours seated in front of a glaring screen isn’t particularly beneficial to the body in and of itself and oftentimes there are ways of getting what we need to get done, done just as quickly and effectively without a computer.

 

For more information about physical activity and health and the Active Healthy Kids Report Card, the following resources can be visited:

 

http://www.activehealthykids.ca/Home.aspx -the report card itself

 

http://cnw.pathfireondemand.com/viewpackage.action?packageid=448 – a video about the new report card

 

http://ourhealthourfuture.gc.ca/home/ – share your thoughts in an online discussion about healthy weights

 

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on May 7th, 2011.

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