Physical activity down, screen time up: Study shows pandemic's impact on Quebec teens

A Quebec public health policy organization says concrete action is needed in light of a study showing a significant proportion of Quebec’s adolescents have been less active during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than half of adolescents aged 14 to 17 say they have been less active

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A Quebec public health policy group says there needs to be concrete action following a study showing more than half of teenage Quebecers have been less active during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's rather alarming because we already know that young people weren't reaching daily physical activity targets before the onset of the crisis,"  said Marc-André Parenteau, a public policy analyst at the Quebec Weight Coalition — known by its French acronym CQPP.

"Over the years, we've observed a decrease in physical condition, cardiovascular capacity and motor skills in young people compared to previous generations," he said.

A survey conducted on behalf of the CQPP found that 53 per cent of Quebecers aged 14 to 17 have decreased their level of physical activity since the pandemic began. A fifth of respondents said their activity decreased a lot and a third said it decreased a little.

The decrease was most pronounced in Montreal and Quebec City, with 58 per cent and 54 per cent of adolescents reporting a decrease, respectively. In Quebec's other regions, the number was 46 per cent.

Increase in screen time

At the same time, screen time for leisure purposes has gone up: 77 per cent of respondents said it had climbed higher since the health crisis began.

Almost half the respondents said the lack of access to infrastructure — such as parks, sports fields, and cycle paths — since the start of the crisis was a barrier to physical activity. In the Quebec City metropolitan area, that number rises to 62 per cent.

Municipalities' role

The CQPP says municipalities have a role to play in encouraging young people to get at least an hour of physical activity a day. Parenteau said Montreal's efforts to create more open space by limiting vehicles on certain streets is a good example.

"In Montreal, various neighbourhoods are setting up safe, marked bike paths," he said. "They now also allow free play in certain residential streets. Traffic is reduced so that young people can play hockey and ball near their homes."

The organization hopes that other similar initiatives will be implemented quickly across the province. It's also calling on the Quebec government to demand a mandatory increase in the time spent in physical education classes.

"Education guidelines call for 120 minutes of physical education lessons [a week]," Parenteau said. "In previous research, we found that this isn't being achieved. We're talking more in the range of 60 minutes. Making two hours per week compulsory could help get young people moving on a daily basis."

On the positive side, 64 per cent of young people said that the support of their parents had a positive influence on their level of physical activity since the start of the crisis.

The survey was conducted by Léger in June with a representative sample of 300 respondents from Quebec, aged 14 to 17.

Based on a story by Radio-Canada's Jean-François Nadeau


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