There's little change in healthy eating and physical activity in Island youth, according to a new survey released Wednesday.
The 2010-11 School Health Action Planning and Evaluation System (SHAPES-PEI) survey gathered information from approximately 10,000 Island students in Grades 5 to 12 about healthy eating, physical activity, mental fitness, and tobacco use.
The survey found 30 per cent of students are considered overweight or obese for their age, a number that has remained steady since 2008.
Only about 45 per cent of students meet national physical activity guidelines of 60 minutes per day, the survey found, results which are also relatively unchanged since 2008.
"We do see a need to work on physical activity in our youth programming, and hopefully by our next round we would see an enhancement of the percentage of kids who are actually meeting the physical activity guideline of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day," said Donna Murnaghan, principal investigator of SHAPES-PEI and associate professor of nursing at UPEI.
The report also shows girls were less likely to be physically active than boys.
The survey did note a drop of seven per cent in students who reported eating and drinking unhealthy foods and beverages excessively, down to 23 per cent from 30 per cent.
The principal of Parkdale Elementary says she checks students' lunches from time to time.
"I check occasionally at lunch to see who has whole grains, milk, who has yogurt, who has fresh fruits and vegetables," said Michele LeClair.
Physical and mental health
It’s important to not just look at physical activity and eating habits, but also mental fitness, according to Sterling Carruthers, school health specialist for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
The study did find improvements in mental health, with 69 per cent of Island students reporting high levels of mental fitness, up from 66 per cent in 2008.
"Think of mental fitness as a tool to measure how a student feels about herself or himself," Carruthers said in a news release.
"How is mental fitness related to health behaviours? We want to understand what makes students feel good about themselves, and how that contributes to healthy lifestyle choices."
As well, the survey found about six per cent of students consider themselves to be current smokers, down from eight per cent in 2008, and 25 per cent of students admit to having ever tried smoking, down from 30 per cent in 2008.
After the last report, the province offered grants to schools for healthy initiatives, but that hasn't led to big improvements.
"We did see little gains, not great strides, but we feel if we continue to monitor, continue to tell the schools and the students, the parents themselves the things out there that are happening in educational system and homes, we can act upon that research," said Education Minister Alan McIssac.
The research now goes to the schools, boards, and the province.
The survey was compiled by UPEI, along with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Department of Health and Wellness.
"The Department of Health and Wellness is very excited to see this type of research being conducted in Prince Edward Island," said Doug Currie, minister of Health and Wellness. "It is very important that we have access to quality, locally relevant data that can help inform health programming in our province.