With the 2010 Active Healthy Kids Report Card being released we decided to enlist some expert help from CEO Michelle Brownrigg, of Active Healthy Kids Canada to get your questions answered!
Michelle Brownrigg, MSc
Michelle Brownrigg is the Chief Executive Officer for Active Healthy Kids Canada, and has had an array of professional experience in the area of health and social development, with a particular focus on healthy development for children, youth and families. Her research work has been in the area of community health and exercise science focused on children, youth and families in the context of sport and physical activity participation. She has been involved in research and evaluation initiatives associated with health promotion campaigns in relation to healthy eating and physical activity among children, physical activity and body image in girls, youth organizing for community change, and she has been involved with the Report Card since its inception in 2005. She has served on numerous committees and advisory boards in relation to health promotion, chronic disease prevention, healthy schools, healthy body image, sport and recreation. Michelle is a current member of York University’s Faculty of Health, and has served as an independent consultant to a number of organizations.
Check out our Q and A with Michelle Brownrigg:
WhereParentsTalk: Do you feel that the message is starting to get through?
Brownrigg: There is definitely huge public interest in the results of the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card, which is important, but the fact that we are not seeing much improvement in the physical activity levels of our youngest citizens is troubling. Only 12% of children and youth are active enough to meet physical activity guidelines of 90 minutes per day. The purpose of the Report Card is to continue to direct attention to the issue of inactivity, and we have to move beyond awareness to actually making changes at the individual, family and community levels and build more activity into daily living. We also need structural support through government policies and investments that will facilitate this at the individual, family and community levels, making the choice to be active something that is seen as a natural part of our daily lives.
WhereParentsTalk: What progress has been made in the last year?
Brownrigg: Unfortunately, we have not seen much improvement in our key indicators since last year’s Report Card. While there are some great programs out there, and much good work is being done in communities across the country, the delivery of these is inconsistent and we don’t yet have a nationwide culture of physical activity as part of daily life.
As well, we are missing a commitment to child and youth physical activity at the federal level. For the first time this year, the Report Card assigned an F for Federal Government Investment, due to a new paper that cites a dramatic decline in federal spending over the past generation. In real dollars per capita, federal spending on physical activity is half the amount that it was in 1986. We saw great strides in sport performance at the recent Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Canada, that came as the result of focused support through the Own the Podium program—if we want to increase physical activity levels among children and youth, we also need to Own the Playground.
WhereParentsTalk: Where are there gaps – age groups, parts of the country?
Brownrigg: This year, we are pointing to a need for more attention to the early years. There may be a misconception that preschoolers are busy and “active,” but this is not always the case—less than half of Canadian kids under five are getting regular physical activity as part of their daily routines. And in Canada, we do not have physical activity guidelines for children five and under. Kids of this age are also spending too much time sitting in front of television, videogame and computer screens.
Research also shows that obesity is on the rise in this age group, and that lifestyle patterns set before five actually predict health and obesity outcomes later in childhood, and even through adulthood. Children who become obese before the age of six are likely to be obese later in childhood, and it’s estimated that overweight 2-5-year-olds are four times more likely to be overweight as adults. Healthy habits including regular, daily physical activity, must start early in life.
To read more about what’s working, and what roadblocks lie ahead in each province and territory, please visit the Cross-Canada Tour section of the Report Card here:
WhereParentsTalk: What advice do you have for parents regarding kids’ physical activity?
Brownrigg: The number one tip for parents to get our youngsters moving more is to let them play! Active play is fun, but it’s certainly not frivolous—it’s critical for the healthy development of children, as it gets them moving, and helps build social skills, imaginations and self-esteem. Active play is defined as free, unstructured activity, such as running with friends at the playground, playing with balls, and collecting sticks in the woods. Research suggests that children require blocks of free time in their daily lives to plan, pretend and enact play as individuals and a group. So as parents, and as a society, we need to make sure our kids have access to safe, supervised yet unstructured play spaces in child care centres, schools and community settings where children and their peers can engage in physical activity of their own design.
WhereParentsTalk: What are the targets?
Brownrigg: Canada’s physical activity guides recommend that children and youth get 90 minutes of physical activity per day. We do not have targets for children five and under in Canada, and international guidelines vary, but the consensus is that children 1-5 years should participate in at least two hours of physical activity every day, accumulated over many sessions and as a part of play, games, active transportation and recreation. This may sound like a lot, but it doesn’t have to be done all at once! Families, schools and communities can break it into manageable chunks. Naturally, kids want to move. One study found that, given the choice, kids would play in the playground, play sports, or walk their dog after school—and all these choices came before screen time. We need to offer safe, supervised unstructured play opportunities for kids in our parks and playgrounds. Adults in the community can share responsibilities in taking neighborhood kids to the park, and we should be asking for municipal recreation budgets to include playground supervisors.
WhereParentsTalk: Boys versus girls differences?
Brownrigg: While the numbers are not great for children and youth as a whole in Canada, the statistics are particularly disturbing when it comes to girls. Currently, 20% of boys aged 5-10 years and 15% of boys aged 11-14 years are meeting the guidelines, but only 5% of adolescent girls are getting enough activity.
WhereParentsTalk: Could you single out a successful program in Canadian community that works?
Brownrigg: There are great examples of programs and practices that are effectively promoting and supporting physical activity opportunities for children and youth across the country. There is no “one size fits all” approach to promoting physical activity, and what works in a rural area, an urban area, amongst different ethnic populations and cultural realities does—and should—differ from community to community. In this year’s Report Card, we called upon provincial and territorial partner organizations to help us identify key challenges and promising solutions facing each of their jurisdictions.
WhereParentsTalk: What impact do you think Michelle Obama’s Lets Move! Campaign will have on Canada?
Brownrigg: The goal of the United States’ Let’s Move! campaign is to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation. There may be a misconception that the United States has more of an obesity and inactivity problem than Canada does, but the findings of the 2010 Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card remind us otherwise—when it comes to supporting and encouraging healthy, active lifestyles for our young people, we are failing our kids. Hopefully, the attention that Michelle Obama is bringing to the issue will help put child and youth inactivity higher on the national agenda in Canada. As a society, we need to invest attention and funds to support families—through public, private and philanthropic sectors—to get Canadian kids more physically active.
For more information on the report visit: www.activehealthykids.ca
Check out the ParticipACTION Tips Sheet created for parents in response to this year’s report card: http://www.activehealthykids.ca/ecms.ashx/Tips/ActiveHealthyKidsCanada2010ParticipACTIONTipsSheet.pdf