Fat and sedentary

Eric Sparling
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Schools offer just 60 to 90 minutes of phys. ed. per week

Nolan Starratt (from the front), Jacob Mont and Anthony Hazel got extra exercise this year playing for the basketball team at Spring Street Academy. 

AMHERST – Just one hour. That’s how much time some of our youngest kids are spending in physical education classes per week.

Statistics pulled from different sources indicate too many kids are fat and most of them aren’t getting the exercise they need.

A provincial government document says about a third of Nova Scotia youth, aged two to 17, are overweight or obese. Dalhousie research indicates that, by Grade 11, less than 10-per cent of youth get an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise five days a week.

Phone calls Tuesday to West Highlands Elementary School, Spring Street Academy and Cumberland North Academy indicated that kids at those schools receive two or three 30-minute physical education classes per week.

It’s not like the problem has been beneath the public’s radar.

“Physical activity is essential for reducing obesity…our results show rural kids get most of their physical activity at school so maybe they should have more time for exercise there,” said Dalhousie professor Daniel Rainham in a document dating to May last year.

A spokesperson from the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, Debbie Buott-Matheson, said Tuesday that provincial guidelines call for kids in grades P to 2 to get up to 100 minutes of physical activity per week, Grade 3 students to get 150 minutes, and grades 4 through 6 to get 125 minutes. In the case of the youngest group, Buott-Matheson said 60 minutes of physical education classes weekly – which is not the same as the broader category, physical activity – is roughly the average across the province.

Buott-Matheson said physical education standards are set by the province but decisions about delivery of physical education and activities are made by schools.

“Finding the instructional time in the day (is a hurdle),” she said. “It’s funding (too).”

Trina Clarke would support a greater emphasis on phys. ed. in the school day.

“I absolutely think (that) we should,” said the CEO of the Cumberland YMCA.

Clarke said efforts are being made to increase the level of physical activity among youth, and that the province is a partner for some of that effort. For example, a YMCA program focused on inactive girls that operates two days a week at seven schools in the region gets provincial support. She noted the dramatic decline in participation in physical activities among girls aged 10 to 14, calling it a “tremendous, negative statistic.” (Municipalities are also partners in the program.)

The facts, as reported by a provincial study conducted in 2009-2010 – part of the Thrive! Plan – bear out her grim assessment. While about 80-per cent of Grade 3 kids of both genders were meeting activity guidelines, the number dropped to 28.4-per cent for boys in Grade 7 but to just 13-per cent of girls. By Grade 11, less than one-per cent of girls appeared to meet the standard.

The Y’s CEO said the principal at the school her children attend, Cumberland North Academy, tries to ensure the most is made of recess and lunch breaks.

The Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. say 60 minutes of activity daily should be the goal, most of it made up of aerobic activity. Nova Scotia’s answer to the question, “How much exercise does a child need?” came compliments of the IWK.

Jackie Spears, a manager with primary health and a source for a brochure on the topic, confirmed the view that kids aged five to 18 need 60 minutes of activity every day, and that it should be “moderate to vigorous” three days per week. Less than 50-per cent of kids in Nova Scotia get the amount they need, she claimed.

The government says steps are being taken to improve the situation.

“The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is working with school boards on a needs assessment to develop a plan to achieve (the) goal of 30 minutes of daily physical education for grades P (to) 9,” said Frank Dunn, the associate deputy minister of the department.

The Department of Health recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily for kids, based on guidelines from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology.

“…Our focus is on promoting overall daily physical activity,” said health spokesperson Tony Kiritsis. “That’s where communities and families play a huge role in ensuring that afterschool, on weekends, holidays and over summer vacation, children and youth have opportunities and access to incorporate physical activity in their daily lives.”





Organizations: Cumberland North Academy, West Highlands Elementary School, Street Academy YMCA Central Regional School Board Cumberland Department of Education and Early Childhood Department of Health Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Chignecto, U.S.

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