Active Living Initiatives Do Not
Necessarily Address Obesity Issues
A landmark University of Alberta study, analyzing a sample
of over 275,000 individuals, has found that when it comes
to participation in physical activity, one size does not
"Our study uncovered some definite trends and preferences
when deciding how and if a person wants to be physically
active," says Brad Humphreys, an economics professor at
the University of Alberta. "It is clear that different
genders, ethnicities and income levels have very diverse
influences and choices when it comes to being physically
The study, co-authored with U of A professor Jane Ruseski,
looked at a wide range of factors, including income, education
and ethnicity, that influence whether a person decides
to be physically active, as well as their time spent being
active. It also examined the impact of government spending
on parks and recreation on an individual's decision to
participate in physical activity and sports.
Walking Most Preferred
At a 57 per cent participation rate, walking was found
to be the most common form of physical activity undertaken
for exercise. Results suggest that participation in walking
increases with age, indicating that programs aimed at
promoting walking for exercise could appeal to older populations,
"Choosing walking as the main form of physical activity
may reflect the relatively low cost of this activity,"
says Humphreys. "Walking can be done in almost any setting
under almost any condition without needing specialized
equipment or facilities." Although walking may be the
preferred choice for physical activity, many experts are
not convinced on the effectiveness for health. "Walking
is not the best form of exercise to get in shape"
said Susan McHilley of PreventDisease.com. "More
evidence is being presented every year which clearly shows
that although walking is a benefical form of physical
activity, the intensity and duration are critical to enhance
health and prevent disease" she added.
It was found that participation in all types of physical
activities increased when a person had a higher level
of income and that people with a post-secondary education
participated in outdoor recreation activities more than
high school graduates. As well, females were less likely
to participate in outdoor recreation activities, group
sports and individual sports than males.
"Compared to men, we found that females spent an average
of 444 minutes fewer per week doing outdoor recreation,
108 minutes fewer spent on group sports and 74 minutes
fewer on individual sports," says Humphreys. "This can
be explained by child-care responsibilities and the fact
that women spend almost an hour more on household activities
compared to men per week."
"Our results have important implications for the design
of government interventions aimed at increasing physical
activity," says Humphreys. "When developing these programs,
we must take into account North America's diverse population.
A program that increases participation in one population,
say older adults and retirees, in a particular state,
may not have the same effect on young married minority
couples in another state." That's where active living
needs to address a wide range of groups to positively
affect the health of the entire population.
Active Living Fails To Prevent
Although decades of government implementations have attempted
to resolve the growing issue of inactivity, most have
failed. Active living initiatives have only lead to poor
results and limitations for children as they age. The
limitations of such approaches to combat childhood obesity
may also, in part, have contributed to the problem over
the years. Motor skills such as speed, strength and power
which are integrated with cardiovascular abilities have
consistently shown to improve long-term health in both
children and adults. Yet an extremely large percentage
of school curriculums, including those encompassed around
active living, fail to properly address or incorporate
effective training methodologies into their structure.
Simply put, schools which only implement generalized
active living programs do not instill and develop the
individual abilities in children that are necessary to
maintain good physical health throughout their lifetime.
Governments have invested hundreds of millions of dollars
into these programs to increase physical activity among
youth and the general public. Despite these government
initiatives, and since the inception of such programs,
children are more obese today than ever before. Culture
is a huge factor, and physical activity is only one component
of the "get healthy equation", something active
living advocates still need to wrap their heads around.
But despite lifestyle, physical activity curriculums are
just not giving children the transferable skills they
need in the first place.
Regardless of any inclusion criteria assessed, children
that graduate from social and active living programs have
extremely little or no comprehension of these essential
mental and motor skills that should be ingrained in their
daily lives. Although most agree that such programs may
increase a child's overall knowledge of diverse activities
to increase physical activity, the statistical data indicates
that children do not transfer this knowledge (actively
or otherwise) into their late teens and early adulthood
to positively affect their health.
Active living programs also do not correlate with gross
demographic variables like income and occupation, which
are influential indicators on physical activity into early
adulthood and beyond. In addition, there is no scientific
dynamical evidence on the long-term health benefits of
these programs. The dynamical relationship between leisure
and health has never really been studied due to the enormous
quantities of variables involved. However, we don't really
need the studies or an analysis to validate the long-term
results. We have the first hand evidence from the plethora
of programs implemented in the 70's 80's and 90's. We
know what happened to the majority of these children and
their behaviors as they grew into adults.
The majority of research touting the benefits of active
living to prevent child obesity has been either too small
or inconclusive. This story (from the inception to termination)
for such a multitude of programs, has been told for decades.
Unfortunately, each successor has continued to either
ignore or poorly address the changing needs of children
and teens for almost 40 years. The truth is that the big
health picture is bleak for children if more than 90%
of schools do not improve their current programming.
This is the reality
governments perpetually make
the same mistakes in physical education at the cost of
children's health, and you don't have to look far to see
the evidence. The obesity rates continue to soar every
decade, in every state and province, in part due to the
short comings of Physical Activity programs that are not
progressive and have trouble co-existing with the technological
era and fast-paced work environments in our society. This
is part of the reason why more than a very large percentage
of both Canadians and Americans do not exercise, contributing
to the growing obesity epidemic which is presently costing
North America hundreds of billions of dollars per year.
So what's the solution? There is no simple answer, but
the focus must remain on progressive programs that advance
children's health. Curriculums designed to create exercise
environments that only mesh with sport or competition
have isolated several groups of children who are uncomfortable,
uncoordinated or lack the athletic ability to enjoy these
events. Active living programs are also typically designed
around involving multiple individuals to achieve a specific
physical activity, which creates a mindset that a buddy
system or group is always necessary to engage in these
events. Moreover, a plethora of school-based programs
still emphasize non-locomotor and manipulative skills
for physical education which are very poor indicators
in maintaining long-term health. Effective locomotor skills
that allow children to maintain and increase their physical
activity levels on an individual basis are the complement
so desperately needed in our physical education system.
The day we better equip children with the critical tools,
knowledge and skills that are transferable into their
teenage and adult years, is the day we will begin to reverse
the epidemic of child obesity.