Board of health calls on school boards, sports and rec organizations to help improve physical activity levels for children and youth

SUDBURY—The statistics now prove that, with the implementation of stay-at-home orders, closures of schools and indoor and outdoor spaces to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, these measures have significantly reduced the physical activity levels of children of all ages everywhere, including the Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) area. With this realization comes a call from the PHSD board of health for all area school boards, sports and recreation organizations and early learning centres to work to improve physical activity levels among children and youth across Sudbury and districts, through collaboration with those who provide comprehensive physical literacy training.

“Statistics Canada shows that the percentage of youth meeting the Canadian physical activity recommendations for children and youth fell from 50.8 percent in 2018 to 37.2 percent in 2020,” said Natalie Philippe, Public Health Nurse with PHSD.  “The national organization Participaction also published a report card for children between the ages of 5-17 and only 28 percent of children are meeting the correct amount of physical activity in 2022, which is a drop of 11 percent compared to 2019.”

“There has been a steady decline in children’s physical activity over the years,” said Ms. Philippe. “Some of this can be attributed to the impact of COVID -19 and the stay-at-home orders, closures of schools and indoor and outdoor spaces to mitigate the spread of COVDI-19.”

“We obviously all have a lot of work to do,” stated Ms. Philippe. She pointed out the Board of Health passed a motion at its meeting last week concerning physical literacy for healthy active children. 

“What we are saying is that we are encouraging all settings, such as schools and school boards, sports and recreation organizations and early learning centres to help and work with us to Improve physical activity levels,” said Ms. Philippe.

Ms. Philippe pointed out the motion indicates that being physically active every day helps children and youth perform better in school, learn new skills, build strong muscles, improve blood pressure and aerobic fitness, strengthen bones and reduce the risk of depression.

The motion notes, “the Government of Canada’s national policy document, Common Vision for Increasing Physical Activity and Reducing Sedentary Living in Canada: ‘Let’s Get Moving,’ identifies  physical literacy as the foundation for an active lifestyle. Studies show that children who have high physical literacy scores are more likely to meet national physical activity or sedentary behaviour guidelines. Physically literate individuals have been shown to have motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engaging in physical activities for life and these skills help them make healthy, active choices that re both beneficial to and respectful of their whole self, others, and their environment.”

Ms. Philippe noted as well that currently, on average, children spend 2.6 hours of leisure time watching computer and video screens and up to 5.9 hours. “Physical activity is down, and screen watching is up. We know this can also affect mental health, vision and have psychological impacts as well.”

She pointed out the school community offers one of the best opportunities to improve the quality of sport and physical activity participation for children and youth and that Ontario Public Health Standards require that, “community partners have the knowledge of and increased capacity to act on the factors associated with  the prevention of chronic diseases and promotion of wellbeing, including healthy living behaviours, healthy public policy, and creating supportive environments. This includes knowledge of the importance and impact of physical literacy on increasing physical activity participation thereby reducing the risk of chronic disease.”

The Board of Health motion reads in part, “be it resolved that the Board of Health for PHSD encourage all area school boards, sport and recreation organizations, and early learning centres to work to improve physical activity levels among children and youth across Sudbury and districts, including through collaboration with Sport for Life Society, Active Sudbury and Public Health Sudbury and Districts, agencies that provide comprehensive physical literacy training to teachers, coaches, recreation providers and early childhood educators.”