Active Healthy Kids Report Card Calls To End ‘Hyperparenting’?

Yesterday, Active Healthy Kids Canada released its 2012 Report Card on Physical Activity.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that once again the overall grade is ‘F’.

As noted before, inactivity is not a problem specific to obese kids, most Canadians kids (lean or overweight) are simply not active enough – period!

Among the 24 grades assigned in the Report Card, key grades include:

• “F” for Active Play & Leisure
• “F” for Physical Activity Levels
• “F” for Screen-Based Sedentary Behaviours
• “D+” for Active Transportation
• “D+” for Family Physical Activity
• “F“ for Federal Government Investments
• “C-” for Provincial/Territorial Government Investments

One of the few As in the report card (an A- to be precise) was given for the proximity & availability of facilities, programs, parks & playgrounds indicator which, (unchanged from last year) shows that the large majority of Canadian children and youth live in communities where the built environment has characteristics that are conducive to physical activity and opportunities for physical activity are nearby and available. So I am really not exactly sure what more communities can be expected to do here.

Also, notably, one of the few B grades in the report was given to sport & physical activity opportunities at school, reflecting the fact that over half of schools in Canada offer a number of intramural and intervarsity sports, and the majority of parents report that schools offer other physical activity or sport programs outside of regular PE classes. While, as noted before, this may not always be conducive to promoting more physical activity in the less-competetive ‘non-natural-born-athlete’-type kid, it is also not clear exactly how much more schools could or should be doing to get kids moving (perhaps less is more?).

I, for one, tend to believe that the key problem is exactly what is highlighted in the accompanying press release:

“Barriers, including screen time and parental safety concerns, force children and youth into highly-controlled environments, where they have little opportunity for active play. Fifty-eight per cent of Canadian parents say they are very concerned about keeping their children safe and feel they have to be over-protective of them. Safety concerns, whether or not they are founded, such as crime, traffic, neighbourhood danger, outdoor darkness and lack of supervision, discourage parents from letting their children and youth play outdoors.”

As Mark Tremblay, Chief Scientific Officer, Active Healthy Kids Canada, points out:

“Kids of all ages should have regular opportunities for active play, where they can let loose, explore, run, climb, crawl and play in parks with friends, like their parents once did.”

Unfortunately, the solution suggested by Active Kids, namely,

“To address safety concerns, parents and caregivers can take turns supervising and playing with children outdoors or encourage kids to play with a buddy.”

is not exactly helpful, when parents and caregivers themselves are sedentary and exhausted and lack the time to spend with their kids.

It is no surprise that double income households (the rule rather than the exception), while great for the economy, also means one person less at home to actually do the supervising. I am, frankly, not at all surprised when most parents, after a busy work day and a long commute, barely managing to stop to pickup up the dinner pizza on their way home, realising that all of the regular household chores still await them, often simply lack the energy to also spend a couple of extra hours every day ‘supervising’ their kids on the playground.

Perhaps it is simply time to cut those kids loose – yes, there will be trouble, knees will be scratched, arms will be broken, clothes will be torn, tears will be shed – but so what? It never harmed us – it sure won’t harm our kids.

As Tremblay points out,

Active play is fun, but it is also shown to improve a child’s motor function, creativity, decision-making, problem-solving and social skills.”

Perhaps our very effort to save our kids from harm is exactly what is harming them the most?

Please, let your poor kids eat those germs!

Edmonton, Alberta