COLUMN: Revamp physical activity standards

The current program in British Columbia’s schools is insufficient.

With the exciting 2012 BC Summer Games still fresh in our minds, it might seem as if all our youngsters are involved in the world of sports and athletics. While this is certainly an ideal to aspire to, the truth is quite contrary to this belief.

In recent days and weeks, a great deal has been published about the importance of physical activity. According to “Global physical activity levels: surveillance progress, pitfalls, and prospects,” a study published online on July 18 by the medical journal The Lancet, 70-79.9 per cent of Canadian boys aged 13-15 do not meet the requirement of 60 minutes of activity per day. The number is even higher in girls, where 80-89.9 per cent do not meet the guidelines. Thirty to 39.9 per cent of Canadians aged over 15 also do not meet activity standards.

Although the study gives statistics about Canada’s national state of affairs when it comes to exercise, and does not focus on specific provinces, lack of activity is a problem afflicting Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

How do we fix the problem in B.C., especially in our youth? Providing opportunities for youth, such as the recent BC Summer Games, is certainly important. However, long term effective strategies, especially in schools, need to be implemented.

The current physical education program in British Columbia’s schools is insufficient.  According to B.C. Ministry of Education guidelines, students from kindergarten to Grade 7 are to be provided with the opportunity of engaging in at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day.

High school students in Grades 8, 9 and 10 take required P.E. courses which are more than effective in providing required physical activity.  However, it is in Grade 11 and 12 that students are required to self-report at least 150 minutes of activity per week. Often in high school, I observed fellow students who blatantly falsified this data and I have discussed this in a previous column.

However, even if we ignore this aspect of B.C.’s Daily Physical Activity (DPA) program, a problem still persists. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children aged six to 17 years of age should be dedicating at least 60 minutes per day towards physical activity.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also supports the 60-minute recommendation for youth aged 12-17.

It’s time that the 150-minute weekly program in B.C. is revamped. The minimum standards must be raised.

Should P.E. classes be mandatory for Grade 11 and 12 students? Should the current self-report system simply change from 150 to 300 minutes per week? These are questions that need to be addressed, both at a societal and governmental level.

Though physical activity changes in the education system will affect students from kindergarten through Grade 12, parents of younger children also need to change the sedentary habits of their kids. A recent study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity measures the quantitative affect that television viewing can have on waist size. A four-year-old child, for example, who watched more than 18 hours of TV per week had his/her waist size increase 7.6 millimetres by age 10. These statistics are not surprising, but they do send a reminder wake-up call to the public.

The benefits of exercise for adolescents are obvious. In order to take advantage of these benefits, the provincial government needs to work on implementing physical education strategies that actually conform to current standards. On the other hand, parents need to turn off the tube and encourage healthy habits in the household.

Japreet Lehal is a student at Simon Fraser University Surrey. He writes regularly for The Leader.

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