With kids' physical activity levels as woefully low as they are – in large part because parents feel safer having them inside watching television rather than running around outside – moms and dads are being told a very simple message to reverse the trend: Just let your kids go out and play.
On Tuesday, Active Healthy Kids Canada released its annual Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. It gives a letter grade of F for both the physical activity levels and screen-based sedentary behaviours of today's children and youth.
According to the report, 46 per cent of Canadian kids get only three hours or less of active play a week and spend nearly eight hours a day in front of screens. As well, the proportion of kids who play outside after school has dropped 14 per cent over the past decade.
Active play – throwing a ball around, playing tag, climbing trees and so on – is "disappearing from our lives," says Mark Tremblay, chief scientific officer of Active Healthy Kids Canada and director of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group.
Active play is disappearing for two reasons beyond the temptations of screens, Dr. Tremblay says. One is that we've "institutionalized movement." That is, we've compartmentalized physical activity like so many other things in our life. We take our kids to soccer practice, tick it off the list, and let them go back to the couch afterward.
But active play is also "on the endangered list" because of what Dr. Tremblay says is an "excessive fear of the outdoors." Kids who are allowed to play out in their neighbourhoods may be in no more danger than children were a generation ago, but try telling that to many parents these days.
"We've got this crisis, we've talked about it for a couple of years now, but the solution does not have to be expensive and the solution does not have to be complicated or difficult, just get our kids to play. Let's bring back play," says Kelly Murumets, president and chief executive officer of ParticipACTION.
But with the allure of screen time and parents' fears of the bogeyman lurking outside, solving the crisis may not be that simple.
Do you send your kids out into the neighbourhood to play?
Editor's note: The Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth was released by Active Healthy Kids Canada. ParticipACTION is a strategic partner of the report. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.