Don't blame kids for sedentary ways

Wayne Young
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She must have walked miles, by now, and she’s only one year old.

Watching my granddaughter’s boundless energy as she explores every inch of our Summerside home, I wonder how it is that Canada’s children recently scored such an abysmal ‘F’ in sedentary behavior and D– in overall physical activity.

Obviously, it’s an acquired skill because right now, the last thing Madison wants to do is to sit quietly.

A report card released this week by Active Healthy Kids Canada found that 84 per cent of children aged three to four get the recommended 180 minutes of daily physical activity.

But for kids aged five to 11, only seven per cent meet the guideline for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. It sinks even lower for 12- to 17-year-olds – four per cent.

What happens when they turn five that turns roving tots into veritable couch potatoes? School is an obvious target but I suspect sedentary tendencies are taking root long before they hit the classrooms.

Already my granddaughter is fascinated with electronic gadgets, things like cellphones and game controllers. It’s so cute, we say, when she uses her little thumb to scroll through pictures, or punches buttons as she points the remote at the television.

But if children learn from watching – and they do — it might be a good time to take stock of exactly what lifestyle parents and grandparents are modeling for them. Statistics suggest we’ve got some work to do ourselves.

A Canadian Health Measures survey from 2007-2009 found that just over 15 per cent of adults were meeting the recommended guideline of 150 minutes of physical activity a week. The survey also found that adults spent an average of 9.5 hours a day in sedentary activities – not exactly the kind of behavior that inspires our kids to get active.

Some call it a “culture of convenience” and it’s hard to refute. Raised well before the electronic revolution, my parents walked miles to school every day (uphill both ways, if you were to believe my father). In the absence of any gadget other than a floor-model radio, they took to the outdoors to run, bike, swim and interact with all the other children who found themselves in the same boat.

By the time kids in the boomer generation came along, we had it much better – television, electricity, indoor plumbing, to name a few of the “modern-day” conveniences. But most of us weren’t allowed to morph into couch potatoes. It seemed there were always “chores” that had to be done and when there wasn’t, we were booted outdoors – any season – to work off extra energy.

Skip ahead another generation and I’ll admit that when we were raising our own girls, physical fitness frequently took a backseat to a myriad of other indoor entertainment possibilities, even before the Internet and cellphone arrived.  For them, chores were minimal. Still, they got a fair bit of exercise at playgrounds in the neighbourhood and during frequent visits to their grandparents’ farm.

I’m not sure about today’s generation, but I have noticed that many playgrounds seem to be woefully under-utilized. My suspicion, born out by the Active Healthy Kids report, is that many children are spending a good deal of their pastime indoors pursuing sedentary activities.

The report suggests a child’s day has become so structured there’s simply no room for free play, walking or biking.

So we look to government to help. Give us more and better playgrounds, swimming pools and recreational outlets so our kids will want to get off the couch, have fun and exercise. We look to schools to offer a broader scope of opportunities to make our kids physically fit.

But aren’t we really just passing the buck? I’m not suggesting that schools and government can’t play a greater role, but I think we should turn the mirror on ourselves to see if we’re doing all we can to help our children and grandchildren lead healthier lives.

A very simple solution offered by one of the authors of the report card was one that my grandparents and my parents figured out a long time ago — simply get outside and play.

I can’t imagine what new gadgets are being developed to pin Madison and other Canadian tots to their seats.

But I can imagine that if she sees her parents (and grandparents) striving to be more physically active and encouraging her do the same, she’ll have a much better chance of avoiding the kind of sedentary lifestyle that’s earned this country’s kids such a dismal and failing grade.


Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

Organizations: Holland College, Active Healthy Kids Canada, Canadian Health Measures

Geographic location: Summerside, Canada, Charlottetown

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