New findings, released today in Active Healthy Kids Canada’s 2011 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, revealed that six- to 19-year-olds are spending only 14 minutes of the critical after-school period – approximately 3 to 6 p.m. –doing moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity. The Report Card urges parents, schools and policymakers to work together to ensure Canadian children and youth have opportunities to be physically active during this critical period.
This sedentary after-school behaviour is one of the reasons the Report Card assigned an “F” to physical activity levels for the fifth consecutive year. Children and youth devoted more than 40 hours per week – the equivalent of a full-time work week – to screen time.
“This is concerning because such a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a variety of negative outcomes, particularly obesity,” says Dr. Brian McCrindle, Staff Cardiologist at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and leader of the SickKids Childhood Obesity Research Team. “Obesity leads to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, which in turn may lead to a higher likelihood of heart attack and stroke in adulthood.”
On the other hand, physical activity can have significant benefits that go beyond physical health: building self-confidence and reducing the likelihood of risky behaviours like drug and alcohol use.
“Making small lifestyle changes can result in, long-term benefits for the whole family,” says Dr. Catherine Birken, Staff Paediatrician and Project Investigator at SickKids and Assistant Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto. “Limiting after-school screen time and supporting participation in physical activity with friends or family members can be steps toward a healthier lifestyle for children and families.”
Birken is a part of TARGet Kids!, a collaborative project between SickKids and St. Michael’s Hospital that brings together child health researchers and community practitioners with the goal of improving children’s health through effective and timely primary care. TARGet Kids! is studying physical activity in over 3,000 preschool-aged children in Toronto. Birken says the goal of this research is to “lead to effective early interventions to improve physical activity, growth, development, and health in the broadest definition.”