Canada's Toddlers: Trading the Playground for Playstation

When waxing nostalgic about our childhoods, many of us have memories of frolicking with friends in the grass, impromptu games of baseball and road hockey, or even just playing fetch with the dog come to mind. But when our current generation of toddlers grow up and do the same, as a new physical activity report card suggests, they’re more likely to recall hours spent sitting in front of the television, video games, or the computer.

According to the 2010 Active Healthy Kids Canada’s Report Card, Canada’s toddlers are dangerously inactive. Only about 12 per cent of our children are getting the recommended 90 minutes of activity per day. No wonder the report also found that 15.2 per cent of two- to five-year-olds are overweight and 6.3 per cent are obese. If these numbers aren’t concerning enough on their own, it gets downright frightening if we look toward the future. According to the report, obesity that originates in infancy is very likely to persist throughout preschool and the rest of childhood, and obese children have an increased risk of 25%-50% of being obese into adulthood. The Star paints an even graver picture, citing other recent studies that place obesity as North America’s biggest health risk over smoking, and speculates that this generation just may not outlive their parents if lifestyles don’t change.

In the most recent issue of Our Kids Go to Camp, chief executive of Active Healthy Kids Canada Michelle Brownrigg explained how outdoor unstructured play is crucial for a toddler’s physical, psychological, and emotional development. It stimulates problem solving skills, social skills, a valuable connection with nature, imagination, and a healthy sense of competition. But it’s something that today’s children are getting less and less of.

“Active playtime is one of the most decreased areas of discretionary time in the past decade,” she said.

As some parents assume that physical activity comes naturally to toddler-dom, TV and video games are easy and attractive distractions with which busy parents can occupy their young ones. One only has to look to long-term trends to see the impact – in 1971, the average child started watching TV at age 4. Today, it’s 5 months.

With the fourth “F” report card in a row, Canada’s physical activity record is enough to send any kid to the principal’s office. So Active Healthy Kids Canada is calling on the federal government to finally set some guidelines for children under 5 years old. To ensure Canadian children are getting the excercise they need, Mark Tremblay, chief scientific officer of AHKC, says the government needs to put more support into sports programs and childcare facilities for every child from 1-5 to get at least 2 hours of activity every day.

“Although there is some benefit to be received from owning the podium, we also need to own the playground,” he said.

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