Presentation at the 2008 Active Living Research Annual Conference
Low levels of physical activity and increasing levels of overweight in Canadian children and adolescents have become a prevalent concern for many, including health promoters and policy makers. Despite these concerns, few provinces in Canada have objectively measured physical activity and overweight at a population level. The psychosocial influences on physical activity participation should also be systematically collected, evaluated, and used to better inform policy and programming aimed at increasing levels of physical activity and reducing overweight in children and youth.
To measure physical activity, body mass index (BMI), and the psychosocial factors influencing physical activity in Nova Scotia children and youth in Grades 3, 7, and 11 every four years.
In 2001-2002 and again in 2005-2006, random samples of boys and girls from randomly selected schools across Nova Scotia provided seven days of objectively measured physical activity. Further, these students had their height and weight measured, BMI calculated, and responded to a questionnaire designed to identify their most prevalent supports and barriers to physical activity.
More than 1700 students participated in the first Physical Activity of Children and Youth (PACY) study (2001/02) with more than 90% of the boys and girls in Grade 3 engaging in the recommended level of physical activity, that is, 60 minutes or more of moderate or more intense physical activities on five or more days of the week. In the Grade 7 students, 62.2% of the boys and 44.5% of the girls obtained the recommended level of physical activity while only 12.6% and 6.9% of the boys and girls, respectively, in Grade 11 were considered sufficiently physically active. In regards to BMI classifications, 37% of the boys and 45% of the girls in Grade 3 had a BMI greater than the 85th age- and sex-matched percentile. In Grade 7, 37% of the boys and 39.9% of the girls were either at risk of overweight or overweight. In Grade 11, 32.9% of the boys 25.0% of the girls were classified similarly. The most prevalent barriers to physical activity in the first PACY study were that it was “too expensive”, “no time”, “too much school work”, “no one to go with”, and “no equipment”. Further, girls, particularly in Grade 3 noted that they were also “scared to go out at night”. More than 2300 students participated in the second PACY study (2005/06). Using the same recommendations for level of physical activity, 96% of the boys and girls in Grade 3, 43.5% of the boys and 23.8% of the girls in Grade 7, and 9.7% of the boys and less than 1% of the girls in Grade 11 obtained the recommended level of physical activity. In terms of BMI weight classification, 47.1% and 40.5% of the Grade 3 boys and girls, respectively were either at risk of overweight or overweight. In Grade 7, 40.3% of the boys and 30.3% of the girls had a BMI greater than the 85th age- and sex-matched percentile. Similarly, in Grade 11, 30.7% and 30.2% of the boys and girls, respectively, were either at risk of overweight or overweight. The top three barriers to the physical activity participation of the students in Grade 3 were: “cost”, “lack of equipment”, and “school work”. For the students in Grades 7 and 11, the top barriers that limited their physical activity were “school work”, “no one to go with”, “poor weather” and the “cost of participating”.
It seems that the various efforts following the first PACY study aimed at promoting physical activity were effective in the Grade 3 students since more students obtained the recommended level of physical activity in the second study. However, given that fewer students in Grades 7 and 11 obtained the recommended level of physical activity, different strategies need to be developed and employed. Further, given that girls in Grades 7 and 11 are much less active than boys, particular emphasis should be placed upon promoting physical activity for them. Given these findings, particularly from the data collected on the psychosocial factors influencing physical activity participation, there are numerous policy and program implications that can - and should - be considered. Implications for home, school, and community will be described through the lens of a socio ecological framework including how changes to policy, physical and social environments, and public awareness strategies can be utilized to increase level of physical activity in children and youth.
Conducted at Acadia University, Cape Breton University, Dalhousie University, and St. Francis Xavier University. This study was supported by the Nova Scotia Department of Health Promotion and Protection and the Department of Education.