Today is the first day of summer vacation here in Ontario, and I assume that the summer break has begun in most other parts of North America as well. That means that millions of kids are looking at 8 gloriously school-free weeks in July and August. Now while physical activity promotion folks like myself would hope that all of these kids are going to spend their summer outside being physically active, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that that is not the case for most kids.
Since these are kids, parents obviously have a huge amount of control over the way they spend free time. So what do parents look for when making summer plans for their kids? According to a new survey by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario/Environics, physical activity doesn’t play into the decision making process for most parents.
When asked to name the biggest challenge to making summer plans for
their kids, 49% of parents in the Greater Toronto Area named
affordability, while just 17% said it was ensuring that the child was
physically active. Now I don’t think that anyone is surprised that the
primary concern would be affordability, but physical activity was literally
the bottom of the list, well below other concerns including safety,
that the program be beneficial for the child in some way, or simply
knowing what programs are available. Now we could interpret this a few
ways – perhaps finding summer activities that involve physical activity
isn’t a challenge because there are so many opportunities that involve
physical activity. But again, given the low levels of physical activity
being performed by Canadian children, that seems unlikely. What seems
more likely is that physical activity just is not the primary (or
tertiary, or even quaternary (?)) concern for most parents. That
doesn’t mean that parents deserve all the blame, but it’s still an
After the release of the survey I had the
opportunity to discuss the results with Sharon Brodovsky (at left) from
the Heart and Stroke Foundation. I find it very interesting and
frustrating that the solutions to these issues seem so incredibly simple
(e.g. take your kids to the park), and yet childhood physical activity
levels still don’t seem to be improving. That’s one of the reasons why I
like Sharon’s Spark
program, since it focuses explicitly on advocacy and creating a
societal movement for healthier children, rather than placing all of the
burden on parents (for my earlier post on Spark, click here). If you only have time to read one answer, jump to
number 6, as I that’s the one that I found by far the most interesting,
and the most important for those of us promoting physical activity.
Affordability was the number one concern in your survey. If a parent
can’t afford to send their kid to camp, what practical steps can they
take to make sure their child has a physically active summer?
are many options in the city that are free. Playing in their
backyard, local parks, accessing local city outdoor pools, wading pools
playgrounds. Take advantage of the summer weather and play outside as
much as possible. Meet at the nearest park with other families in your
neighbourhood or building and play a pick up soccer game. Schedule
activity time into your daily summer routine.
2. Your press release mentions that back in the day, “summertime meant we got on our bikes in the
and came back before the streetlights came on.” How can we
get back to that, especially in large cities? Is it even possible to
back to that type of lifestyle? Is it as simple as locking the kids
go back to those days nor should it be something to strive
for because our cities and lifestyles have changed. It’s not about
kids outside but giving kids and parents new sets of keys to so that
easier for kids and their parents to be active and play outside.
3. Dr Di Buono mentions that when left to their own devices, kids often
choose sedentary activities like video-games. You’re a parent – how do
you make sure that unstructured playtime is still physically active?
where parents need to be parents and role models, kids
naturally want to play and it’s more fun with someone – a video game is
just a substitute play mate. Summer is the perfect time to be outside
if kids are given an open space with a ball or a Frisbee and or friends –
will actively play, run, skip, and jump.
4. There is a movement trying to legalize street hockey in the GTA
it’s technically illegal). This seems to suggest that it’s not just
parents that need to take action – it’s the entire community. What can
individual people do to advocate more effectively for physically active
totally agree with the “takes a village to raise a child”
approach and we as parents and citizens need to start speaking up to our
friends, neighbours, city counselors and others about making our
more accessible to be physically active – legalizing street games,
our trails and bikes paths into our daily commutes, etc. Lead by
people see others outside playing – they will follow.
5. Your press release says that the priority for parents is to find
solutions that are affordable, convenient, and safe, as opposed to ones
promote physical activity. What is the solution? (e.g. make everything
more safe/affordable, convince parents of the importance of PA, all of
really is a bit of all of the above as all are priorities and
barriers that prevent our kids from being active
6. A lot of the tips
(e.g. go play outside) are simple for people who are
already active and have at least a basic level of skill and knowledge
about physical activity. But what about the people who either don’t
have the sport skills, or the time, or are being impeded by any other
barrier? I struggle with this a lot, because the general tips that we
give to people are simple and seem relatively easy to implement (to us
at least), and yet they still don’t seem to be catching on. Do you
think the issue is still one of educating people (e.g. telling them that
kids are better off outside than in front of a TV), or do we need to
move beyond that somehow? I really don’t know what the answer is, but
I’m curious to hear what you think.
Travis this is an excellent
question it made me sit back and
think. The answer is yes we still have to provide the “educational”
messages. Rather than move beyond, it is about more – education +
advocacy. We also need to work at the policy level – to make it more a
cultural/societal “norm” to be active – for our kids (and us adults).
The same way that recycling is now part of our everyday lives – city
streets have appropriate multi-stream receptacles, as do stores,
restaurants and arenas. What truly makes it sustainable is that the
public now expects this norm, and happily divides their garbage as
required. This is what we also need for physical activity. We have to
work to make it easier and more embedded in our daily lives and seen as a
cultural “norm” to be active.
7. You’ve got 100
to convince our readers that they should all join the Spark campaign,
of geographical location. ?
The Heart and Stroke Foundation
of Ontario believes that every child has the right to grow up healthy
access to physical activity and recreation. There is a health crisis
looming if we do not act now. This is the first generation of kids that may not live as
as long as their parents. And it’s not their fault. Together we can
advocate for change to ensure that all children are active and that the
healthiest choice is the easiest choice for parents and children alike.
Get involved, stay informed at www.heartandstroke.ca/spark our
depends on it.