Get kids off the couch after school: report

Kids need to get active after school to improve life spans.

Children and teens need active after school programs

Children play in a soccer league in Oakville, Ont., on July 3, 2010. Many Canadian kids plop themselves in front of a TV or computer screen after school, a trend that needs reversing to improve physical activity levels and overall health. (Richard Buchan/Canadian Press)

A new report says that Canadian children and youth are not getting enough exercise especially after school.

The 2011 Report Card of Active Healthy Kids Canada documents that from approximately 3 to 6 p.m. children and teens get an average of 14 minutes of moderate-to vigorous-physical activity (MVPA).  

This compares with an average of six hours of screen time for Canadian teens outside of school. Screen time includes TV, computer and video games. The report recommends the after school hours as a time of opportunity to get kids moving and suggests more supervised activities for children and teens immediately after the bell rings. 

Though unconfirmed by research, 13,500 steps are considered roughly equivalent to 60 minutes of MVPA. Source: 2011 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Car d on Physical Activity for Children and Youth

The reason for the concern, the report notes, is that in recent years, obesity and physical inactivity have been a major focus of child health concerns in Canada. Evidence suggests that the percentage of obese children and youth is on the rise, leading to a physical inactivity crisis in Canada.

Art Quinney of Active Healthy Kids Canada says the federal government now spends about half what it did per person on promoting active living than it did in 1986. Quinney, also an exercise physiologist at the University of Alberta, says that doesn't make sense.

"The current generation of children will have a shorter life span than their parents. And it's simply due to the chronic conditions, that they will face as they move into their middle and later years are starting now as children. It is something that is happening right here, in our communities, now"

Physical activity can lead to significant improvements to cholesterol and blood lipid levels, hypertension also improves with exercise and there are improvements in symptoms of depression with aerobic exercise. Resistance training, weight-bearing activities and jumping improved bone density in children and teens.

In the United Kingdom, 80 per cent of 7- to 8-year olds traveled to school on their own in 1971, compared to only 9 per cent in 1990. The proportion of 7- to 11-year-olds walking to school in Britain dropped by 25 per cent between 1971 and 1990. This decrease has also been seen in other parts of the world. 

Source:  2011 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Car d on Physical Activity for Children and Youth

The authors of the study are recommending the following:

  • Promote 3 to 6 p.m. as an opportunity for kids to do what they want.
  • Empower them with a message that the after-school period is their time, while providing resources and models to encourage them to be healthy during this time.
  • Create awareness campaigns to educate parents and caregivers about the potential of the after-school period for healthy, active living pursuits.
  • Promote the importance of physical activity and its benefits to after-school program providers.
  • Lobby governments at all levels to subsidize after-school programming for children and youth, and to require safe, developmentally appropriate activities that encourage movement and time outdoors.

The annual report card was funded by Active Healthy Kids Canada, in partnership with ParticipACTION and the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute - Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO), in partnership with Wonder Bread, The Lawson Foundation, Kellogg's, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Carp Ridge Learning Centre.