Our Kids are Busy but Not Active: Consequences

The way we choose to live goes a long way to determining how long and how well we will eventually live. More troubling is that our choices are observed and learned by our kids, who then take on very similar choices and lifestyle. While kids theoretically have a choice, in reality they follow their parents, for better or for worse. This study from Active Healthy Kids Canada is really troubling, in that it points to what I call “Rich Country” disease, where here in Canada we have lots of organized sport activities, lots of proper environment and equipment, but not a lot of actual physical exercise. It would be more appropriate to have the best of organized sport, with great facilities, that results in the fittest, most healthy kids on the planet. This is certainly not the case.

This post comes from reading a CBC article on Physical inactivity of Canadian kids blamed on ‘culture of convenience’:

Tuesday’s report, “Is Canada in the running?,” from Active Healthy Kids Canada grades kids from 15 countries on their physical activity levels in various areas. Findings for Canada, followed by other countries’ grades, include:

  • D- for overall physical activity (Mozambique and New Zealand lead with a B, and Scotland lags with an F).
  • C+ in organized sport participation (New Zealand leads with a B and Mozambique lags with an F).
  • B+ in community & the built environment, such as local availability of parks, pools, arenas, leagues and bike lanes (Australia leads with an A-, and Mexico and Mozambique lag with an F).
  • D in active transportation, such as how many kids walk or bike to school (Finland, Kenya, Mozambique and Nigeria lead with a B, and the United States lags with an F).
  • F in sedentary behaviour, like time camped in front of a TV or computer (Ghana and Kenya lead with a B, and Scotland, South Africa and Nigeria also received an F).
  • C+ in physical activity at school (England leads with an A- and Colombia lags with an F).

I will try to summarize: Canada has a lot of organized sport, with a great physical environment and facilities for sports. We rely on cars too much for convenience, and are addicted to our electronic devices. This makes our kids unfit. Unfit kids may have a higher incidence of health issues in the future.

We, Canada, are a rich country that can afford to build great sports environments, but because we are relying on our technology too much our kids are unfit. This is really not how technology should be used, and this must change.

Here is a quote from the Active Healthy Kids Canada site:

This is the 10th anniversary of the most current and comprehensive annual assessment of the physical activity of children and youth in Canada. For the first time, this Report Card reveals how Canada stacks up against 14 other countries.

Canadian parents really try to do the best for our kids. Still, our lifestyle very often results in sub-par results. Eating too much processed foods, high in sugar and fat, come to mind. Sure many families do eat out a lot and when they are at home do eat lots of processed foods, but every parent has the personal choice whether to follow the masses and advertisers, or think deeply about our lifestyle and make conscious decisions follow another path.

In Canada, there is a tendency to build more, do more and impose more structure, but perhaps these efforts are not optimal approaches for physical activity promotion. In New Zealand, which leads the pack with a B in Overall Physical Activity and a B in Active Play, there was a global media storm in early 2014 when university researchers invited schools to encourage adventurous active play in children. When 4 elementary schools relaxed safety-based playground rules (e.g., “don’t run here,” “no ball areas” and “no wheels”), not only did the students get more active, but the administrators also reported an immediate drop in bullying, vandalism and injuries.

To increase physical activity levels, we must encourage the accumulation of physical activity throughout a child’s day and consider a mix of opportunities (e.g., organized sport, active play, active transportation). In some cases, we may need to step back, do less and simply let kids play. In developed societies such as Canada, we must acknowledge that children need room to move and the opportunity to do so in a variety of settings and spaces, including the natural environment

source, pp 16

It is clear that this is not just a problem here in Canada but in other rich nations. I can see poor nations that cannot afford great healthcare for their citizens, but they make up for this with healthy lifestyle choices that may result in longer lives and healthier kids. Being from a rich country does not guarantee a healthier and longer life. This concept intrigues me, in that you can be wealthy and “wealth” yourself to an earlier grave.

As a technologist it troubles me that our use of technology has negative consequences that are not acknowledged by most Canadians. Technology makes us richer in knowledge, no doubt, and this enriches our lives. Technology also makes our lives more convenient, saving us time and effort, to the point where we rely on technology and become less active. This negatively affects our kids and our lives.

Is there no way to use the best of technology and to not be affected by the negative effects? There is a fine line that needs to be first acknowledged that it exists, and a strong personal effort to ensure we are not affected by its side effects.

Which parent the world over does not want to raise kids in a better environment than they were raised? We need to choose between cooking from scratch or going to a restaurant or eating processed foods from a can. We need to choose between dropping the kids to school in the car or walking/biking there. The convenient way is not necessarily the best way. We have choices, people, hard choices.

Last summer I would normally drop Little Weed to his summer camp by bicycle, a 1.5km round trip. One Chinese parent actually asked me if I owned a car, as they knew I was Canadian. When I replied our family indeed did own a car, she was surprised, and asked me why I would not use the car and would rather ride a bicycle instead. She saw no redeeming reason to cycle and not drive the car. This is her choice, but it was not mine.

Lifestyle choices need not be motivated by ego or being better than your neighbours. The choices you make should only benefit you and your family, irregardless of what others think.

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