Good morning. Welcome to the 147th meeting of the health committee.
We continue our study on fitness in young people.
We have, from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Josh Berman and Adam Joiner.
We have, from the Canadian School Boards Association, by video conference Josh Watt.
We have, from Physical and Health Education Canada, Melanie Davis, the Executive Director; and Tricia Zakaria, the Director of Programs and Education.
From Sport for Life Society, by video conference from British Columbia, we have Richard Way and Andrea Carey.
Hello there. It's wonderful to have you.
We'll give each of you 10 minutes for your opening remarks, and we'll begin with Josh Berman.
You have 10 minutes.
Madam Chair, honourable members and committee staff, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today and to contribute to this important study on physical activity levels in Canada’s youth.
Community-based activities, positive relationships and life-changing programs: as Canada’s largest child- and youth-serving organization, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada provides vital services and programs to over 200,000 young people in 700 communities across Canada. During critical out-of-school hours, our clubs help young people develop into healthy, active and engaged adults. Our trained staff give children and youth the tools they need to realize positive outcomes in self-expression, academics, healthy living, physical activity and mental health.
At clubs, we are there for children and youth during critical out-of-school hours, that time before and after school and during weekends and school breaks that represent the largest block of discretionary time in a child’s day. The average child between the ages of six and 12 has approximately 67 hours of free time each week, which is more time than they spend in school.
Research suggests that having a lot of largely unstructured, unsupervised and unproductive time can undermine positive development.
At Boys and Girls Clubs, young people have structured programming and supervision that helps them stay active and healthy. All of our clubs operate under the core programming of our model for success, which includes daily physical activity and access to healthy food.
As this committee knows, physical activity has been demonstrated to have broad effects, including improved academic performance and reductions in depression, anxiety and stress, loneliness, and self-destructive behaviour. It plays a fundamental role in healthy child development.
We know that only 35% of Canadian children between the ages of five and 17 are getting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day. We also know that participating in quality, organized out-of-school activities is a constructive, safe and active way for young people to spend their free time.
In a recent national survey, when asked how they would like to spend this discretionary time, the vast majority of children and youth said they wanted to spend more time engaging in physical activities, hanging out with friends and participating in arts-related activities such as music and drama. However, getting access to these activities can be difficult for families of low socio-economic means.
This is where Boys and Girls Clubs come in. Our clubs offer every one of these programs at little to no cost for members. Our clubs are often located in neighbourhoods that have few recreational centres, with young people coming to think of Boys and Girls Clubs as a place where they can belong.
Clubs have been largely focused on physical activity, including team sports, recreation, dance, and adventure sports. Increasingly, we are adding nutritious meals to the traditional after-school snack and are providing programs on nutrition and other aspects of healthy living. They help children and youth develop the positive attitudes and behaviours that will promote their safety, health and well-being.
Children who regularly participate in after-school programs make considerable health and wellness gains. They exercise more regularly, eat well and are more protected from injuries and threats. Because they are learned in childhood, these behaviours are more likely to affect participants’ lifestyle well into adulthood.
Given the short- and long-term mental and physical health benefits that structured out-of-school programming provides to children and youth, we ask this committee to consider including support and expansion for such programs, especially for those families with low socio-economic means, as a strong recommendation in its report back to Parliament.
I now want to give the opportunity for my colleague, Adam, the Director of Programs for clubs across Ottawa, to speak about some of our more specialized physical activity programs.
I want to take a moment to discuss some of the cutting-edge programs we are implementing across the country for children and youth who need us most. Exposure to childhood trauma, whether it be parental divorce, jailing of a family member, or a newcomer to Canada who is fleeing violence, is a deeply stressful and emotionally painful experience that leaves a lasting physical and mental imprint on children and youth. It has been found to disrupt normal child development in profound ways, in the brain, the body and social and behavioural interactions. With the rise of neuroscience, our understanding of the impact of trauma on the brain and body has dramatically increased.
A child affected by trauma may exhibit behaviours such as emotional dysregulation, hypervigilance, aggression, an inability to form prosocial relationships. Fundamentally, trauma causes a rewiring of the brain, often causing children and youth, as they grow, to have incredibly difficult times dealing with stress.
Through our trauma-informed sport program called the bounce back league, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada is playing a role in improving health and wellness outcomes for children and youth who have experienced trauma. Currently running in three clubs and soon to expand to another 10, including here in Ottawa, youth are invited to participate in an ongoing competitive sports activity. Each session starts with a warm-up, skills development and then a competitive game that introduces a level of stress. The trained staff member talks to and coaches these youth through the game about strategies on how to handle stress, and supports making connections to stressful events or times outside of sport, such as at school, their part-time job or home life. At the end of the game, the group comes together to share and learn from each other.
I highlight this program as a way to support the whole child and youth. Increasing physical activity is incredibly important, but we also need to meet youth where they are. Well-developed sports-based programs grounded in multidisciplinary research and evidence, such as our Bounce Back League, can improve physical health outcomes while also improving mental health outcomes, such as confidence, emotion regulation and the establishment of positive relationships.
Our programming across Canada is offered at little to no cost and is delivered intentionally with the goal of providing high-quality and consistent active programs where physical literacy skills can be developed. Underlying all of our programs is intentional social skill development, where children and youth can learn skills such as positive communication, positive decision-making and leadership.
As mentioned before, meeting children and youth where they are and at their ability is incredibly important. Programs and services at Boys and Girls Clubs are developed with that intention. Whether it be our Walk This Way program, which brings 120 children and youth across our city here in Ottawa to different walking destinations, or our competitive sports programming, our goal is to get children engaged and to ensure they have a positive relationship with physical activity. That will, in turn, support them to be active for life. Watching a young person who is not active finally achieve their goal is not only life changing for that child, it is life changing for everyone around them.
Boys and Girls Clubs provide wraparound programming to help children and youth learn about the importance of healthy eating and nutrition, such as our Kid Food Nation program, and how to prepare cost-effective, nutritious meals to help fuel growing bodies. As young people become more engaged in sport and activities, we know there is a direct correlation to mental, physical, emotional and cognitive growth.
As a child growing up at the club, I can attest to the difference it made in my life. Physical activity and the costs associated with programs were unattainable for my family, so the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa was my only outlet. Before going to the club, I didn't have regular access to sport. I had poor nutrition and therefore lived a very unhealthy lifestyle, at one point resulting in my weight surpassing 350 pounds. The club allowed me to lose weight, become healthier, learn about proper nutrition and gain confidence at a time when I was most vulnerable. This was life changing for me. My greatest gift now is the ability to provide that same experience to young people in our communities today. As a multi marathon and half-marathon runner, I now live a far healthier lifestyle. I believe the Boys and Girls Club saved my life in more ways than one, providing me with the chance to become the person I am today.
For the 200,000 young people we work with annually, Boys and Girls Clubs across Canada allow the same opportunity to learn about the importance of physical activity in their lives and how it makes an impact.
Thank you again for letting us speak. We look forward to your questions.
Honourable members of Parliament, it is with a profound sense of duty and responsibility that the Canadian School Boards Association accepted the Standing Committee on Health's invitation to share our views on motion M-206 further to the committee's study on the level of fitness and physical activity of youth in Canada.
The Canadian School Boards Association, or CSBA for short, represents over 300 school boards in Canada, providing public education to nearly four million students from kindergarten to secondary school.
Collectively, in fulfilling their many mandates, school boards provide young people with a safe and healthy learning environment where they can develop and grow so that they can achieve educational success.
We educate youth and adults with a view to shaping informed, conscientious and independent members of society who will actively contribute to its development.
Finally, we recognize the importance of health and wellness, and we work to promote healthy living through physical activity, healthy eating and substance abuse prevention.
Through these mandates, we help foster the kinds of behaviours we hope all our students will adopt, both before and after they graduate high school. These objectives represent the lasting contribution and heritage of trusteeship of the school boards that make up Canada's public education system.
In fulfillment of these objectives, school boards across Canada strive to provide all students with a core and essential program that is designed to enhance the well-being of the whole student across the physical, cognitive and emotional spectrum. It includes their participation in physical education programs; health studies courses, including sexual and reproductive health education components; extracurricular athletic and sporting activities; human nutritional programs; and the promotion of general well-being among all students through a complement of ancillary programs, supports and services.
As an association, we also remain active partners of the Joint Consortium for School Health, a partnership of 25 ministries of health and education across Canada who work to promote a comprehensive school health approach to wellness, well-being, achievement and success for all children and youth.
Through our mandates and these relationships, we as school boards have become concerned by many of the same issues that motion 206 has sought to address. In this respect, your study of fitness and physical activity among Canadian youth could not be timed more appropriately. Four years ago, an organization known as Active Healthy Kids Canada developed an international report card on physical activity for children and youth. Their goal was to determine how our youth compared with those in 14 other nations in terms of physical activity. Needless to say, Canada received a D- grade on that report card in terms of physical activity overall, while we scored a D grade for active transportation. Our score on youth participation in organized sporting opportunities was better, yet we still received a final grade of C.
Somewhat more promising, however, and this is where we as education partners have been able to respond to the local needs of our communities, is that the report card found that the vast majority, 95%, of Canadian students have regular access to a gym; 91% have access to playing fields; and 73% of students were found to have access to school areas with playground equipment during school hours.
Increasingly, however, in spite of our best efforts as school boards, we find our objectives for our students at risk or under challenge. The challenge comes from many different factors. They include the risks associated with sedentary lifestyles; the growing role and application of technology to perform what were once physical routines and tasks across seemingly all aspects of life; the availability of resources for populations and communities that may not have benefited from the same degree of generational exposure to physical education as other Canadians; the ongoing impacts of poverty upon youth; the risks inherent in youth addictions and substance abuse; and the ongoing pressures of infrastructure renewal in terms of both the built environment and such consumable capital resources as supplies and equipment.
Another significant concern relates to the degree to which academic achievement in core subject areas related to literacy, numeracy and the sciences have come to dominate public policy focus and discourse.
While we remain in support of vigorous and rigorous action to promote these knowledge-based domains for the benefit of all Canadians, other subject matters, including physical and health education, unfortunately have not received the rightful emphasis they deserve, particularly in the senior high school years of education.
As CSBA, we know that physical activity remains an important determinant of academic success, backed by ample evidence-based research. If Canada wishes to increase its success and achievement and knowledge-based competence, then it remains essential to also promote the physical domain in equal measure. In the longer term, this speaks not only to Canada's economic competitiveness but also to its public investment in health and social programming. It follows that if we as a society fail to address the whole needs of every student—body, mind and spirit—then we will have failed in our mission and denied our vital interests.
While the promise of long life and health expectancy is one that we hope for all of our students, the preceding factors do continue to limit the possibilities that can be provided through public education toward our ability to help our students to fulfill this promise.
This said, we know that together with our partners we can rise to meet every challenge, and so we welcome this opportunity to share our thoughts with you, our federal colleagues, toward the development of greater emphasis on promoting youth fitness and physical activity.
The remaining portion of our remarks are therefore designed to focus on how Canada's public school community can benefit from enhanced federal partnership toward promoting these objectives.
The first recommendation is that we suggest the childhood fitness tax credit be expanded to school-related athletic and sporting activities.
Two, we recommend the establishment of an application-based transportation or travel expense fund through the minister of amateur sport, or potentially the establishment of a national charitable status to assist schools with demonstrated need to compete in provincial and national sporting competitions and also in support of required fundraising activities for the same purpose.
Three, we strongly encourage the reinstatement and expansion of federal funding for after-school active and healthy living programs, as it would be a prime consideration in meeting targets for increased activity for fitness for students.
Four, as it has always done, the federal government can continue to invest in community recreational infrastructure. What we suggest is that, if this is not already the case, funding could be targeted through specific criteria that would favour projects that benefit those recreational structures that are often co-located between community clubs and centres and public schools.
Five, as has been said by our colleagues from Boys and Girls Clubs, proper nutrition plays a key role by enabling physical activity and promoting fitness. Diet precedes exercise as part of a healthy daily routine. Unfortunately, high rates of poverty continue to impact some of our students and deny them this right to food security. There are three distinctive federal responses that we advocate on this particular recommendation.
The first would be increased funding in support of meal programs and healthy eating in schools. For some students, the meals that we provide are not one of the many meals they might receive but the only meal they receive. Funding to expand existing programs would prove to be a direct enabler of fitness and physical activity for Canada's most impoverished students. Second, we advocate for the promotion of localized food security measures designed to respond to needs in remote and northern communities. Third, for Canadian families with lower income, food stamp programs and milk coupons received as a component of social assistance programming can provide essential benefits for meeting daily nutritional requirements.
Six, we propose that consideration be extended to the expansion of federal roles in funding disability-related assistive technologies by redefining this role in terms of both disability mitigation and disability redress. In this respect we believe that, while this would by no means be a replacement of your current support for assistive technologies by enhancing focus on athletic equipment, at the same time you can provide real benefit for Canada's youth through your support for students with special needs and exceptionalities to meaningfully participate in sport and physical activities alongside their peers.
We remain an active partner of the Assembly of First Nations—
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today.
I'd like to acknowledge that we're meeting today on the traditional land of the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people.
The issue of fitness and physical activity among children and youth in Canada is an important one.
I'd like to acknowledge that this particular study is both timely and strategic. It comes at a time when there seems to be a political will to get moving and to strengthen relationships across jurisdictions and sectors. There is some cause for optimism here, and this is a jumping-off point for us all.
PHE Canada is over 85 years old, and we have earned a unique placement within Canada. It is an ear to the ground with regard to both the levels of fitness and physical activity in Canada and the systems that bind it. Our work spans the physical activity, physical literacy, sport, physical education and health domains.
Within the school system, PHE Canada supports two streams of education that the Canadian School Boards just spoke of: the health and the physical education streams. More broadly, we also promote the health of the whole school system through the comprehensive school health framework.
PHE Canada is driven by a table of physical and health education teachers' associations from across the country and also by a research council with over 100 members from the Faculties of Education, Kinesiology and Health.
We're the founding member of the Canadian Alliance for Healthy School Communities, which is built on the notion that the issues young people face today are not one system's responsibility, just like this is not only a sport issue. We all have a part to play.
In my role as Executive Director at PHE Canada and in Tricia's role as the Director of Programs and Resources, we have the privilege of working with over 100,000 teachers, school administrators, community leaders, health professionals and youth to improve the health and well-being of Canada's over 5 million children. As a result, today I'm pleased to contribute what we know to this important topic. Sadly, the key message that I bring to you is not a good one. To set the stage, I'll share a few points.
I'll begin with the simple fact that regular physical activity sustains and promotes life. You're in your second day of these talks, so you know all of the facts in regard to cardiovascular health, diabetes and so on. Despite knowing this, people are still living increasingly sedentary and inactive lives, and the systems in which we work perpetuate this.
The inclusion of the K-to-12 education system today, especially PHE Canada, is a valuable link to have made. The health of our young people and the answers to our problems cross the policy domains of health, education and sport.
There are three main reasons why today's conversation is both timely and strategic.
First, we know why we need to act. Young people in Canada are living sedentary lives more so than at any other time in history. The evidence is abundant and clear on this. The consequences of this have lifelong physical and mental health repercussions. The reasons for this are easily blamed on screen time and gaming, but of course they're a lot more complex than that. They're about how we design our communities, our schools, our governments, our roads, our infrastructure, our culture and our perceptions of safety and so on. The level of complexity requires that all stakeholders are at this table.
Second, it's important that we are part of this conversation because the timing is right. Establishing healthy behaviours early in life increases the likelihood that young people will be physically active throughout their lives. K-to-12 schools have more influence on the lives of young people during these formative years than any other social institution. What is set in motion during these years lasts for a lifetime.
Third, schools are the only social institution with the ability to reach virtually every child regardless of their gender, age, ability, culture, religion or socio-economic status. Schools, therefore, provide a prime opportunity to support children and youth and their optimum development equitably.
The most recent health measures survey found that 95% of Canadian children do not get the recommended amount of daily physical education. Moreover, evidence tells us that 51% of children in Canada do not get opportunities outside the school day to participate in physical activities.
For these young people, this 51% or 49%, physical education and school-based sports are the only form of physical activity that they get. It's easy to see. If we know why it's important, if we know where the kids are and we can reach them all, then physical education and physical activity opportunities before, during and after school are critical if we are going to make a change in their lives. Yet the percentage of schools in Canada that report providing the recommended level of physical activity minutes in a day—60 minutes—varies between 8% and 65%, depending on the grade level. Why is this so?
It's a systemic problem. This is largely due to the intersectoral nature of physical activity. Among the missing pieces or gaps that contribute to this lack is the lack of a deliberate, planned, sustained partnership and the lack of collaboration or mechanisms between sport, physical activity, health and recreation and the education sector. In truth, there's been very little that has been put in place, and what has been put in place is small in scale and project-based.
But this is also an education problem. Physical education curricula vary across the country and each province has different minimum requirements for daily physical education. As a result, it is estimated that only 22% of Canadian children are active at school every day.
Our recent test scores showcase and highlight what the earlier speaker said. On the PISA tests—these are international tests—Canada recently scored second in science, third in reading and 14th in math. Comparably, we are in 17th place for physical activity out of 29 countries.
The overall well-being of our youth is at risk. Within Canada as well, we received D+ on our levels of physical activity. The future does not look good with these numbers. Beyond just the physical costs, such as diabetes, etc., there are also the mental health risks associated with a lack of physical activity. Seventy per cent of mental illnesses have their onset during childhood and adolescence. One in five Canadians under the age of 18 suffers from at least one mental health problem or illness. We also know that children face bullying, exclusion, intolerance and rejection in and outside of the school. This undermines opportunities to connect and engage in healthy relationships including during active play and other leisure activities.
The result for many schoolchildren is loneliness, anxiety, depression and stress. It has profound implications on their future health and well-being. Simply stated, movement and physical activity cannot be things that we do. They need to become a part of who we are. They need to be part of our identity. When we see physical education and physical activity marginalized in schools and outside, we send a message to young people that the body is indeed separate from the mind, and in many ways we portray a lack of importance towards moving. It's easy to see what happens. Based on empirical evidence, when movement becomes part of our daily activities, we see academic scores increase, we see innovation, social and emotional learning opportunities. We even see decreases in anxiety and increases in mental health outcomes.
We have a long way to go to bring our physical activity scores in line with our math and science scores.
For a moment, let's look at the bigger picture. Canada's health care system is being sandwiched by economic demands between an aging population and an increasingly unhealthy youth. The cost of physical inactivity in Canada's health care system is roughly $6.8 billion annually and almost 4% of Canadian overall health costs.
No doubt other witnesses will share similar statistics. The message is that at a population level, our children are heading in the wrong direction. They're moving less and sitting more. The fact is we can afford to do better. What we can't afford is to do nothing.
Reversing this trend is not simple. As we work to support children to move more and sit less, we face many challenges, too many to document today. There are several challenges we must face head on. The first is equity. Not all children have equal access to the benefits of regular physical activity. As I said, only 51% are participating outside of the school.
I'll start with the definition of insanity, which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
I know the committee's been thrown a lot of different statistics, so we'll throw in that today, less than 9% of school-aged children meet the recommended guidelines of physical activity. What's further disturbing is that we see a gender difference, with only 26% of the girls from age five to 17 averaging 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day as opposed to 48% of the boys.
We know that physical inactivity is a major risk for premature mortality, early onset of illness and a host of chronic and mental health conditions. Research also shows that chronic sedentary behaviour, like watching TV and playing video games for hours at a time, is also associated with chronic health problems and premature mortality. In other words, it's not enough to be active; we must reduce sitting time every day.
If these behaviours—inactivity and sedentary times—do not change, the concern is that, for the first time, our children will not live as long as our parents.
We must implement new strategies. We must remember the definition of insanity. In terms of that, we need to create strategies that are based on strong policies and plans to take a multisectoral approach. We need to deliver quality programming that develops physical literacy. As Melanie said, we have to go after the symptoms of physical activity, so develop physical literacy. And as we all know, we need to include everyone. The result will be increased physical activity and health.
There are policies and plans. We must act. This is where we need more communities to take a multisectoral community approach. As the old saying goes, it takes a village.
What does a village need to do to activate the global and national strategies? We need to implement strategies that take this multisectoral community approach.
While promoting being active is important, investing in promotion only will not achieve our desired outcomes.
While schools are really important, strategies cannot depend solely on schools. That has been done in the past, and the result is that physical education specialists are being cut out of the education system, which leads to an erosion of quality opportunities to develop movement skills and have quality physical activity during school hours.
While parents are super important, they cannot carry the burden alone as they try to juggle work and family life amidst a bubble-wrap culture and are now needing to figure out how to ensure their child gets the adequate movement time in the limited hours they have together.
While municipal recreation and community organizations are important, currently quality programming and accessibility vary greatly.
Although sport has many participants, the local clubs vary greatly in the quality of the programming, the training and competition, that they deliver.
The health sector is increasingly recognizing the benefits; however, it is not well-connected to physical activity in the community to highlight its value.
All of these groups need to collaborate. They're doing great work, but generally in silos. There are great organizations in the room today, but we need to do it in a collaborative manner that brings together physical activity promoters, parents, schools, and the recreation and sport and health sectors to effect the system change we need.
A Canadian strategy needs multisectoral community tables to collaboratively develop physical literacy. The result will be increased physical activity and fitness.
Right now we're in three clubs across Canada. It's going to be positioned to go into 10 clubs this year, including one club here in Ottawa.
Essentially, at Boys and Girls Clubs, anyone is welcome. Most club members range in age from six to 18, and the focus is on giving them an opportunity. Here in Ottawa there are no fees attached at all to be a member, so if you want to become a club member, you just show up and we give you a registration form and you're good to go.
Obviously, our focus is going to be strategically on those kids who are dealing with trauma at home, and who have gone through situations that might have been very challenging, and to support them through those through physical activity.
I witnessed one program at the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club. I saw young people who, frankly, didn't take part in activities before because of trauma and being part of those activities really made an impact on them.
When we think of sport, we think it's just recreation, that it's just for fun, but it's so much more than that. It teaches life skills and competencies. It teaches people how to have resilience and perseverance. That's what the Bounce Back League is all about.
We're happy to answer that.
As presented, I think the two key things we would recommend are, one, creating that multi-sector approach at the community level so that we have everyone around the table, including parents, schools, recreation, sports and health services, and, two, developing physical literacy.
In Canada, we are global leaders in the work around physical literacy. Organizations like ours and PHE Canada have been promoting it. However, there hasn't been a significant investment in developing physical literacy, and now we see other jurisdictions, like Australia, New Zealand and Sweden, that are investing more and getting the change that they want and that we want.
So, developing physical literacy.... To invest in messaging around physical literacy and then to modify programs at the community level that deliver on developing physical literacy and our quality are really the two significant approaches that we would recommend.
The reason I ask is that there is a bill at the federal level that does exactly that, Bill . It's currently stalled in the Senate, unfortunately, even though it passed in the House of Commons. If you were to press the senators holding up the bill, everyone would benefit.
Along the same lines, prevention is another dimension that comes into play.
A lot of focus has been on the benefits of physical activity outside the school environment, but shouldn't we promote prevention much earlier on? I've been pregnant twice, so prenatal classes come to mind. Why not take advantage of those classes to support prevention efforts, promoting healthy eating and explaining the importance of being active with your child to expecting parents?
I mentioned the support available to parents in Quebec. From a public health standpoint, shouldn't the federal government, on its end, invest in prevention activities aimed at parents, using prenatal classes or some other means? The government could launch a TV and radio campaign to give parents helpful tips they could use to convince their children to be more active, for instance.
My sister is a doctor. When she recommends 30 minutes of physical activity a day to parents, they tell her they don't have time. Even if she reduces it to 15 minutes a day, parents tell her they still don't have time. Finally, when she recommends at least five minutes a day, they don't dare say they don't have time, but they don't follow her recommendation.
Wouldn't it help to have the federal government launch an education campaign to give parents tips to increase their children's level of physical activity?