Too much screen time for kids
May 29, 2012 / 7:02 am
Many Canadian kids are failing to make the grade when it comes to reaching physical activity targets, with too few hours devoted to active play and too much free time fixated on TV, computer and game screens.
Active Healthy Kids Canada released its annual Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth on Tuesday which paints a grim picture of the activity levels of many Canadian youngsters.
Jumping rope, tag, hide-and-seek and Red Rover may conjure fond memories for many adults where such spontaneous outdoor activities were staples of childhood. But the 2012 report card finds today's kids aren't spending sufficient time engaged in active play.
An "F" grade was assigned in active play and leisure, with 46 per cent Canadian kids getting three hours or less of active play each week, including weekends. What's more, 63 per cent of kids' free time after school and on weekends is spent being sedentary.
At lunch and after school, kids are getting only 24 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity. It is recommended children and youth get at least 60 minutes of such activity daily.
Mark Tremblay, chief scientific officer of Active Healthy Kids Canada, said active play is often the "overlooked sibling" of the physical activity equation.
"It doesn't have to be complicated, it doesn't have to be equipment-intensive, it doesn't have to be led by us, the parents or the playground supervisor or the coach or anyone," he said in an interview from Ottawa. "This is the business of childhood: let kids play or reduce the suppression of their natural desire to play."
Beyond reducing sedentary behaviour, activities that involve little physical movement and a low expenditure of energy, there are many beneficial byproducts of active play, noted Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.
"(Kids) develop physically, mentally, emotionally, environmentally through active play, through interaction with different environments, different movement experiences."
But whether it's kids glued to TVs, computers or games or parental phobias about potential dangers, screen time and safety worries are seen as barriers limiting opportunities for outdoor play.
The report finds kids in Grades 6 to 12 spend seven hours, 48 minutes each day on screens. That figure outpaces the recommendation of no more than two hours of screen time daily.
A survey featured in the report reveals 82 per cent of mothers cite safety concerns as reasons why they restrict outdoor play, such as worries about crime, traffic, outdoor darkness, lack of supervision and neighbourhood dangers like bullies and rundown buildings. In another poll, 58 per cent of Canadian parents say they're very concerned about keeping their kids safe and feel they have to be overprotective of them.
Kelly Murumets, president and CEO of ParticipAction, suggests one potential solution to help allay fears could be to have parents or caregivers alternate supervising kids outdoors. She also recommends streetproofing kids to inform them of basic safety measures, and encouraging them to play with a buddy.
Murumets also suggests making family time active time, such as an after-dinner walk, or heading to the park or playground to kick a ball around or shoot some hoops.
For parents feeling pinched for time, parents can also integrate kids in everyday activities.
"Kids can help us do yardwork, or even if you are out there cutting the lawn, your kids can be playing at the same time," said Murumets, whose organization is launching a play-focused campaign this fall. "You can keep an eye on them, you're doing your thing and they're doing their thing."
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