Young Canadians get failing fitness grade

Most children in Canada, even toddlers, are failing to get the recommended amount of physical activity, a new report suggests. .

Most children in Canada, even toddlers, are failing to get the recommended amount of physical activity, a new report suggests.

Active Healthy Kids Canada, a research group formed to promote physical fitness, released its sixth annual report card Tuesday. It found that less than half of Canadian kids under five are getting regular physical activity as part of their daily routines.

To compile the report card, the group reviewed hundreds of data sets and studies related to physical activity of children and youth in the country.

One of the major studies it looked at, the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, found that 36 per cent of children between two and three and 44 per cent of those between four and five regularly engage in unorganized sport and physical activity each week.

The recommended amount of physical activity for children age one to five is at least two hours a day — through play, games, recreation and active transportation like cycling. For children older than five it's 90 minutes a day.

The report found that only 12 per cent of children and youth are getting the recommended amount of daily physical activity for their age group.

Children in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories fared better, with 15 per cent getting daily exercise. Ontario and the Yukon tied for third place at 14 per cent.

"Kids are being driven to school rather than riding their bikes or walking," said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's chief medical officer of health.

Children in the Atlantic provinces tended to be less active, with seven per cent of school-age children in New Brunswick and nine per cent in P.E.I. taking part in some sort of daily physical activity.

Too much screen time

The report card gave Canadian kids an F grade for spending too much time in from of television and computer screens, with some spending up to six hours a day on those activities.

"That's not homework, that's not working on an assignment — that's strictly video games, TV, chatting with friends on line," said Michelle Brownrigg, CEO of Active Healthy Kids Canada.

About 90 per cent of children begin watching TV before their second birthday, even though it is recommended that children under age two get zero screen time.

The average age that children started watching TV 40 years ago was four, according to the report.

Teresa Beguzman, who works as a nanny in Toronto and attended the launch of the report card, said that in her line of work, she's seen some children who get virtually no exercise.

"They're at home, and they're just watching TV or playing games," Beguzman said. "Their bodies are not working."

The country's physical education programs earned a C- grade because of what the group called discrepancies between the amount of time mandated for phys-ed in schools and the amount actually allotted to it.

Kids' use of recreation facilities and programs, parks and playgrounds got a D because less than half of Canadian children and youth used the amenities available to them.

The group gave the federal government an F for not investing more in physical activity, saying that per capita, it spends half the amount it did in 1986 on promoting physical fitness. Last year, the federal government earned a C grade.

With files from The Canadian Press