ParticipACTION concerned about the impact of climate on young people’s physical activity

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The 2024 edition of ParticipACTION’s Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth notes a very slight improvement in the situation, but adds climate change to the list of obstacles that can prevent young people from getting moving.

This time, ParticipACTION gives a grade of “D+” to overall physical activity among children and youth, compared with a grade of “D” in the previous edition of the report, in 2022.

Even though the grade for overall physical activity has improved, D+ is still an undesirable grade, recalls a document outlining the report’s highlights.

“It’s all very well to give grades of D or F, to say that we’re not moving enough, but it takes a slightly different angle so that (…) politicians listen a little,” explained ParticipACTION spokesperson Dr. Jean-Philippe Chaput.

The improvement from “D” to “D+” is essentially attributable to the end of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, he added, “and we’re back to our old habits”.

The report highlights for the first time the different ways in which climate change can interfere with young people’s physical activity.

It points out that the number of weather warnings has more than doubled in Canada over the past 10 years, and warns that “the current and future effects of climate change could be particularly harmful to the physical activity of children and young people”.

For example, unfavourable weather conditions could lead to the cancellation of outdoor sports or leisure activities, possibly increasing the amount of sedentary time spent indoors and exposure to screens.

“Children are exposed to an increased health risk at extreme temperatures, even before fitness levels are taken into account,” adds ParticipACTION.

Because children’s airways are smaller and they have to breathe faster, they will inhale more polluted air, for example. They also point out that children cannot regulate their body temperature in extremely hot or cold climates as well as adults, due to their larger body surface area relative to their weight.

Increasing disparities

The 2022 edition of the report revealed that the activity levels of racialized and Indigenous children and youth declined more significantly than those of other children and youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies also showed that young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods relied more heavily on outdoor play for physical activity due to a lack of family resources.

“It’s easy to imagine that an increase in temperatures and the frequency of unpredictable weather events associated with climate change could potentially reduce access to nearby outdoor recreation spaces, such as parks, sidewalks and even parking lots,” the document states.

The report finds that 39 per cent of children and youth aged five to 17 met the recommendation to accumulate 60 minutes of moderate-to-high intensity physical activity each day. Only 31 per cent of girls, compared with 57 per cent of boys, met this recommendation.

“There was a rebound effect (after the lockdown), but the rebound effect we see more in boys,” said Dr. Chaput. The boys returned to their pre-COVID level of physical habit, but not the girls.”

It’s hard to explain this disparity, but “it looks like the girls have lost their habits,” he explained. There may also be a spillover effect, since girls mostly want to do what their friends are doing; and if fewer of their friends are playing sports, then the whole thing loses interest.

Less than a third of children and young people (49 per cent of children, 17 per cent of young people) complied with the recommended limit of screen time for leisure purposes, i.e. a maximum of two hours a day.

This compliance with the time limit was lower in disadvantaged households than in better-off households, which may again reflect more difficult access to activities outside the home in these households.

For the less well-off who are more at risk, it’s important for them to be able to move around, to go outside, because they may not have access to expensive sports,” said Dr. Chaput. So climate change is going to affect the less well-off even more than the more well-off who have access to expensive facilities, for example. It’s an additional barrier.”

–This report by La Presse Canadienne was translated by CityNews

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