Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Only 5% of Canadian Youth Active Enough: Report

The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth is out.. and.. have to catch my breath.. that's a big title..

On page 10 of the 100+ page long form report I read stats that show about 5% of kids 5 to 17 years old get the recommended 60 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity, providing us Canadians with a D- grade.  Which maybe we can justify because hey, Australia and the US also were awarded a D- for youth physical activity, so maybe we're really leaders and onto something big.

Like our obesity.  From the 70's to present time childhood obesity has doubled from about 15% to 30%. About 60% of adults are overweight or obese.

I found it interesting that around 80% of parents believe that there is adequate infrastructure for physical activity for youth close to where they live, but only 37% of parents report being active with their kids.

75% of kids participate in organized sports. What's going on here? The report say's only 5% are active enough, yet also say's 75% of kids participate in sports.

The report breaks down some numbers:

75% of 5 to19 year olds in Canada participate in organized physical activities.

Of those, 46% do so year round and 53% participate for less than 8 months and up to 11 months of the year.

34% participate at least 4 times per week, 50% 2 to 3 times per week, and the rest drop off dramatically from there.

Of the whole 5 to 19 year old group participation drops from 83% of 5 to 10 year olds, to 61% of 15 to 19 year olds.

One study showed that 24% of kids playing organized soccer got at least 60 minutes of physical activity while only 2% of baseball players met this level of activity during their practice.  Hockey scored a 50% of kids meeting the 60 min physical activity bench mark.

After the drill down we can see how we can arrive at the overall low physical activity grade.

The report didn't mention anything about how some youth practices are actually over exuberant with getting young athletes to train too hard too soon, but that's another subject I guess.

The report goes on to mention how kids are getting too much screen time, don't walk enough for destinations that are within a reasonable walking distance, like perhaps school, after school activities, or whatever.

While there was some mention that we have developed a culture of convenience and that this influences us to drive instead of walk or ride a bike, I saw no mention of what I think is a larger influence overall.

We love overeating, don't like exercise, and hate being told what to do, especially where overeating and exercise are concerned.

The report did produce a line that I quite like, "we built it and they didn't come", referencing how Canada is actually one of the best equipped nations when it comes to infrastructure for active living like fitness centres, parks, arena's and walkways, but we don't seem to use these facilities that much.

It was also noted that 61% of parents agreed that their kids spend too much time watching TV or using the computer.

I could present you more of the stats, some of which are interesting, but I don't think this report addresses the real issue so I won't go into all the comparisons of Canada's provinces or Canada to other countries. If you're into that data, click the link to the report at the bottom of the page.

I wonder how much we're (adults) influencing our youth with our sedentary habits.

Most adults are overweight and out of shape.  You can certainly gather up a few thousand active people and make it look like there's a lot of interest in living healthy, but overall we're still trending towards increasing our waistline and decreasing our physical activity.

The most difficult task I've experienced as a coach in helping people switch to healthy living is getting people to let go of the reward associations with unhealthy living.  It's hard to not perceive that a walk around the park shouldn't be treated as a behavior that needs the reward of an ice-cream cone or two.

We also have this weird irony where most of the population is overweight, yet there is an unfair judgmental stigma against being overweight. Complicating the matter with another level of irony; although we're all aware of the idea that healthy choices really are better for us, we also offer unfair judgment to those who do make healthy choices; they're the "health nuts".

We have the idea that exercise is a punishment of sorts (which is why you're a nut.. self punishment), which is best delivered by either a screaming commando, methodologically plotted by a science geek, or gently conveyed through a mystic.. whatever way you cut it, exercise is hard, and is delivered by some kind of guru type who of course is a health nut.

So you're wrongly condemned for being overweight while living in a culture that adores and defends overeating, while also being wrongly condemned for making healthy choices while we all know we should be making healthier choices.  If you do make a healthy choice you have to begrudgingly  submit yourself to a health nut guru who's going to punish you and make you do things that you're not sure you really want to do.

The report didn't cover this.  Very few do.

It feels uncomfortable to talk about how we mess up by overemphasizing the reward of eating too much.  The reward attachment is strong, the cultural socialization is strong, and eating too much crap tastes pretty good too; don't want to give that up.

Where exercise is concerned we also have an number of conflicting habits and perceptions.  For those on the no exercise side, many can't see the value in it and may despise the idea of being told to exercise.  It feels too much like someone is meddling in personal affairs. Instead of taking healthy choices at face value, the choices are treated as a kind of oppression or social engineering attempt.

"Don't tell me what to do".  We can get pretty defensive when we're being told what to do, or think we're being told.

For others it's the old "no time" excuse.

For many who do exercise they often have unrealistic expectations of super gains over short periods and that hard exhaustive exercise is the only good exercise.  This soon fizzles out and ends with injury or simply giving up.

We're all messed up when it comes to a balanced and informed take on what exercise is why we do or don't do it.

Our youth are less and less active because adults are less and less active.  It's true that there is growth in the number of people taking up physical activity, which is great, but we still have faster growth in those who leaving being physical activity as well as our population growth overall, leaving space for the sedentary to outnumber the active.

It's in our culture to be inactive and eat too much.  We've socially engineered ourselves to live this way. Somehow we have to get a grip and reverse the trend.

I think a multilevel approach is good; we need reasonable easy access to being physically active, we need some of our tax dollars going towards projects that work, and we need non government resources to kick in as well.

We have all that happening now, but like the report said, we built it and they didn't come. The main piece we're missing is taking a step back from believing that overeating and inactivity are actually not worth the appreciation we assign.  We need to challenge the notion of what we think healthy eating and exercise really are.

I only gain fat when I eat too much.  I lose fitness when I don't exercise.  I feel better, am happier, and am more healthy when I eat healthy and keep up my exercise.

Healthy choices are not restrictive, they're liberating.

It's the unhealthy crap we love so much that is restricting.

Straighten this out, and we'll allow ourselves to naturally gravitate towards healthy choices instead of lamenting them.  It's likely our kids will model our behavior.  They already do now.

After all, who is really going to be motivated to give up something that is perceived as rewarding for something that isn't?

Canadian Youth Activity Report

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