When the mark on the report card is less than inspiring and the student in question (as in, my kid) is less than inspired, I usually stick to messages about the big picture. Like: it's all about the trendline buddy. I promise not to get bent out of shape about the mark, as long as you start turning this sucker around.
Well, there's not much disguising the trendline in the latest report card from Active Healthy Kids Canada, which yesterday awarded a big fat D for physical fitness among Canadian kids. There is no trendline. It's just as lousy as last year, which was the first time the advocacy organization launched the annual report. In all fairness, the group does acknowledge that it's hard to expect much change in only one year. But at the same time, while childhood obesity and fitness concerns have been ranking right up there in the headlines with war and terrorism, the organization hasn't found much improvement by any measure.
The report is definitely worth reading, even if you don't have kids. Because it probes so many factors that affect our daily activity levels, from socio-economic status to technology to "playable" neighbourhoods. You can download and read it here.
There's a lot to digest in the 44 pages, and I plan to revisit it in coming weeks. But for now, here are a few questions that we parents can start asking ourselves about the messages we pass along to our kids about fitness. And if they seem like no-brainers, how come I find myself saying "ouch" more than once?
1) Do you model physical activity? i.e. Do you park yourself in a field chair to watch the kids play soccer, or do you at least jog around the field a few times first. And am I the only one who puts driving the kids around to all their activities ahead of my own time to walk or rollerblade or go to the gym?
2) Do you try to make your kids stick to the doctor-recommended daily maximum of two hours a day on screentime - one hour a day for preschoolers? Sounds easy, doesn't it, but according to the report, less than 20 per cent of kids are meeting those guidelines. Think about it. One Harry Potter movie or NHL playoff game will put them well over - before you even get to the MSN. Scary huh?
3) Do you try to make physical activity part of daily living? That means getting the kids to walk, bike or scooter to school or a friend's house, sending them to the store for milk and encouraging them to play outside without adults. Or getting them to rake leaves, shovel snow or carry the groceries. Yeah, I know. Sometimes it's too damn tempting to forgo the nagging and just do it yourself.
4) If your kids are among the 50 per cent or so involved in structured sports two or three times a week, are you deluding yourself into thinking this is enough physical activity? Ninety minutes a day is the recommended amount. Organized sports tend to feel like a whole lot more than they actually are when you add on the time for getting into uniform and transportation (sometimes across town). But take away that plus all the time they're sitting on the sidelines or the bench when it's someone else's turn to play, and it doesn't add up to nearly as much moving around as you may think.
Life is time-challenged and complicated but the solutions don't have to be. As the report notes, "simple ways of being active need to be better understood and to become valued and ingrained in behaviour."
What do you think? In a culture so obsessed with convenience and technology, what will it take to get people moving again in their daily lives? Are the recommended screentimes realistic for school age kids and teens?