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Canadian kids get D- in physical activity, study finds

Children take part in a dance class in Toronto on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. It's well-established that Canadian kids are not as active as they could be. Now a new study suggests they're among the least active kids in the world.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It's well-established that Canadian children are not as active as they could be. Now a new study suggests they may be among the least active kids in the world.

In June, the annual ParticipAction report card gave Canadian kids a D- for their level of physical activity, the fourth year in a row they received that grade. Researchers estimated only nine per cent of kids aged five to 17 get the recommended minimum of 60 minutes of "heart-pumping activity" a day.

The new ParticipAction study, released Wednesday, compared Canada's dismal record to data from 37 other countries. Canada was placed towards the bottom of the pack, alongside other developed countries including Australia, England, Spain and the United States.

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In Slovenia, which received a top mark of A-, 86 per cent of boys and 76 per cent of girls get enough physical activity.

Lead researcher Dr. Mark Tremblay says there's no reason Canadian kids can't be more active. In large part, he says it's because "we choose not to." He placed some of the blame on too much screen time and not enough free, unstructured play.

There were 26 countries that earned a D or worse; Belgium, Chile, China, Qatar and Scotland were among those with an F.

More-developed countries tended to score poorly in the study while less-developed countries placed relatively high, including Cs for Kenya, Mozambique and Nigeria and C+ for Brazil and India.

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"This is a paradox," says Tremblay, who suggests those countries may have stronger social and cultural connections to physical activity than Canada does.

"You can build all the infrastructure and policies and programs and so on that you want but if it's not something that is internally valued and normative, or even the default behaviour, then it's just not going to happen."

Tremblay says the cold Canadian winter comes up all the time "in the excuse bucket."

"Maybe Canadians just can't handle the cold as well as we used to, or as well as Finnish people currently do, or Swedish people currently do, or Danish people currently do," says Tremblay, also director of the healthy active living and obesity research group at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.

"Our norm is to drive even very short distances in any inclement weather because we might get wet, we might get cold, we might get snow on us, whatever. And it's not the case in other parts of the world that are comparable."

Tremblay notes that Canada ranked relatively high in some individual markers — including an A- for community and environment and Bs for organized sports and school. But Canadian kids scored an F for sedentary behaviour.

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