The Olympic Games are meant to inspire future generations of fit athletes, but a Canadian expert in physical activity is questioning the priorities of our couch potato society.
Dean Kriellaars is a professor of physical therapy at the University of Manitoba. To spark a discussion, this week he released a paper titled, "Canada, a spectator society: is there a relationship between Olympic performance and population obesity?"
It shows how Canada’s medal counts and obesity rates among children and adults have coincidentally both increased since 1972.
"I'm a very strong advocate of high performance athletics and high performance artists," Kriellaars said in an interview. "I believe it's an example of great things our society can do. I think we just have to focus much more on one of our big problems, which is the inactivity of our society."
Kriellaars suspects it’s similar to New Year’s Eve resolutions for fitness. One month later, gyms are often emptier.
A review of studies on whether hosting an Olympics inspires people to get active also concluded: "The evidence to support the notion that hosting an Olympic Games leads to an automatic increase in mass sporting or physical activity is poor."
Kriellaars said people do participate in sports immediately after the Olympics. What he’d like to do is build on that momentum so Canadians of all ages enjoy participating in sports for their whole lives.
Swimmer and Canadian Olympic gold medallist Mark Tewksbury acted as a spokesperson for athletes at the London 2012 Games.
"I'm still seeing stories when we win an Olympic medal, tons of kids register for that. Is the dropout rate really a month? We'll have to see," Tewksbury said.
Tewksbury agrees with Kriellaars that tackling obesity in the long term requires moves such as:
- A change in diet for children.
- More exercise and physical education programs in school.
- Infrastructure such as local facilities.
At an arena in Toronto, some children said they are encouraged by the athleticism of Olympians.
"Four years ago, when I was five, I saw the Olympics and I thought skating looked interesting, figure skating," said Michael Barsoum. "I thought maybe I would try it."
"It really inspires me because it's really beautiful," said seven-year-old Chloe Yuh.
Watching the Sochi Games is also a motivator for some adults.
"I'm a runner," said Jennifer Dawson. "It definitely wants to make me get out there and show my spirit."
Danko Zaric recognizes he’s not at that elite level when he heads down the slopes and pretends to be in a competition.
"It does feel nice to dream for a couple of seconds or few minutes while I participate in sports," Zaric said.