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School's out...and so is physical activity warns The Heart and Stroke Foundation

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Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario
Publication Date: 
21 Jun 2010

Text of the press release:

A new survey by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario found the majority of kids in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) will be missing out on physical activity this summer, as parents scramble to find child care solutions once school is out.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, parents face the harsh realities of juggling cost, safety and work schedules over finding solutions that allow their kids to be active.

The Foundation survey, which was completed in May 2010, reveals that only one-quarter of GTA parents had completed summer activity arrangements for their children.

What's more, non-negotiable priorities among working and cash-strapped parents of school-aged kids made finding child care solutions that are affordable, convenient and safe a greater priority than finding programs promoting physical activity.

"Activity is becoming something that happens by chance -- if at all," says Sharon Brodovsky, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson. "Years ago, summertime meant we got on our bikes in the morning and came back before the streetlights came on. Those days are long gone. Yet, with obesity rates hovering near 28% in Ontario alone, a rate that has tripled over the past 25 years, what are we doing to ensure that our children stay active and healthy during the summer?"

When asked where their children will be spending most of their time this summer, the most common responses were: with the parent or parents (46%), at day camps (17%), or with grandparents (8%). The type of caregiver strongly influences how active the children will be. It's expected that two-thirds (67%) of children who spend most of their time in a day camp will be vigorously active, dropping to 48% among those spending most of their time with parents and 29% for those with their grandparents.

According to the 2010 Active Healthy Kids Canada report card, only 14% of Ontario children and youth are meeting Canada's guidelines of 90 minutes of physical activity a day. "Nine out of ten parents think their children will spend some or most of their time in outdoor active play, with almost four out of ten thinking they will be spending most of their time outdoors," says Dr. Marco Di Buono, Director of Research, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.

"But being outdoors doesn't necessarily translate into being physically active. And parents' own reports suggest that only half (52%) of the children will be vigorously active this summer."

For some parents -- particularly single parents and those with several children -- cost is a major issue. More than half (54%) of parents anticipated they will be spending over $500 per child this summer and a quarter (26%) are spending $1,000 or more on summer activities. "With half of the kids spending most of their summer with their parents, we need to make it easier and more accessible for parents to keep their kids active" says Sharon Brodovsky.

According to the Foundation's survey, parents are relying on informal play to keep their kids active. Only one in five children will be spending a lot of time swimming, one in seven in day camps, and one in eight in organized sports this summer.

"Our kids live in a society in which calorie-dense and often nutritionally-poor foods are too readily available to them and, compared to past generations it is not as easy to be active. If we leave activity during the summer to chance, chances are there will be a lot of sedentary kids. It's not fun or healthy," says Dr. Di Buono.

In 2006, the HSFO identified childhood obesity as a critical issue for the future heart health of Ontario. With 28% of Ontario's children overweight and obese, today's children are at risk of developing long-term health effects such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes at a much too early age -- through no fault of their own.

As a result, the Foundation created a ground-breaking, province-wide initiative called Spark Together for Health Kids. The mandate of this program is to advocate for children's improved access to physical activity and healthy food and the need to work collaboratively with partners from all sectors to create sustainable solutions.

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario Recommendations:

- Make it easier for parents to make healthy choices for their families
- Ensure access to nutritious, safe and culturally appropriate foods and affordable and accessible physical activity opportunities for all children in Ontario.
- Foster action that supports and encourages active living and physical activity.
- Develop essential processes and frameworks at provincial and municipal levels for integrated planning and action.
- Facilitate joint action by individuals, community groups, not-for-profit agencies, media, private sector and governments.