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Promising Solutions

Among the most promising courses of action for fostering physical activity, the International Society for Physical Activity and Health has pointed to mobilizing the living environment that is school [1].

Children and youth spend most of their day at school. There, they acquire knowledge, skills, and habits for leading an active and healthy life [2]. It is therefore an ideal environment for giving them the opportunity and means to be physically active on a daily basis [3]. Moreover, it has been demonstrated scientifically that physical activity has a positive impact on academic success [4].

In addition, a meta-analysis conducted in the United States showed that school-based interventions aimed at fostering healthy living could significantly lower the body fat index (BFI) of students, especially if they comprised a physical activity component [5].

Five Recommendations For Kids To Be More Active At School

Five promising and viable interventions that meet with consensus

A committee of experts formed by the Weight Coalition has proposed five interventions, supported by the literature and meeting with consensus, for young people to be more active at school [6, 7, 8, 9]. These proposals addressed to government, schools, and municipalities allow reaching a large number of children and youth, regardless of their socioeconomic status, and can be adapted to the reality of each environment.

Prescribe a mandatory minimum amount of time dedicated to physical education and health courses

A large number of national and international organizations have underscored the importance of physical education and health courses in school. These courses foster in children the acquisition of fundamental motor skills conducive to learning sport skills and complex movements [10]. Lack of motor skills diminishes the pleasure felt doing physical activity and, in turn, one’s interest in it. It is also a determinant of the abandonment of physical activity in adolescence, particularly among girls [11].

Physical education and health courses reach all children and adolescents, without discrimination, in order to allow them to acquire the skills, knowledge, and behaviours necessary to adopt a healthy and active lifestyle [12]. Hence, these courses constitute an ideal opportunity for transmitting to young people the pleasure of being active, for having them try out different activities, and for allowing them to discover those that they will enjoy practising throughout their lives.

Moreover, it has been demonstrated that increasing the amount of time dedicated to physical education and health during school hours not only does not harm student grades, but it can even improve them whether or not the hours dedicated to other subjects are reduced in the process [13].

Current norms in Quebec

Physical education and health courses have been mandatory in the province since 2006. However, the Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sports has not specified the amount of time to allot to this subject, limiting itself to rough guidelines, which has created leeway for the disparities that exist from one school to the next. It need be noted also that the period of time allotted to physical education and health courses does not necessarily correspond to the amount of time that young people are actually active [14].

   Amount of time indicated in the Basic School Regulations [15]  Estimate of actual time
Preschool  No time proposed  30 minutes/week [16]
Elementary   120 minutes/week 45 to 60 minutes/week [17]

Secondary
(1st cycle)

 100 hours total in junior high
About 50 hours/year
(about 150 minutes/9-day cycle)
150 minutes/9-day cycle [18]

Secondary
(2nd cycle)

 50 hours/year
(about 150 minutes/9-day cycle)

Consequently, in addition to these courses, children and youth must be offered other opportunities to be active at school.


What can government do to maximize physical education and health courses?
  • For preschoolers, prescribe a mandatory minimal time of 60 minutes per week of physical education and health courses.
  • In elementary school, ensure that schools offer a mandatory minimal time of 120 minutes per week of physical education and health courses.
  • In secondary school, ensure that schools offer a mandatory minimal time of 300 minutes per 9-day cycle of physical education and health courses.
  • Promote adequate and continuous professional development among physical education and health teachers in order to establish programs that set acquiring motor skills, adopting an active lifestyle, and making being active fun as top priorities and that include appropriate methods of evaluation.
Encourage intramural and extracurricular activities

Intramural and extracurricular activities can contribute to attain the recommended daily level of physical activity [19, 20]. Offering opportunities in this regard allows students to engage in a broader variety of activities and can serve to bolster conviviality among schools, students, parents, and the community [21].

It has been recognized that increasing access year round to sports and recreational facilities that are both safe and attractive allows increasing opportunities to be physically active during leisure time. Furthermore, such increased access has been associated with increased engagement in physical activity among children [22, 23].

Agreements among schools, municipalities, and organizations to share sports facilities would allow facilitating access to and optimizing the use of public installations and equipment.

Practising physical and sports activities can be a response to multiple motives, interests, and capacities. Among youth, especially adolescent girls, the social aspect plays a dominant role in the choice of activities [24]. This is why in order to get young people to feel like being active on a daily basis it is important for physical activity and sport facilitators to be adequately and regularly trained if they are to establish quality programs. Whereas competition and supervision have a stimulating effect on many young people, they can be the reason that others quit [25]. Physical activities practised in a non-competitive and non-supervised context are just as beneficial, which is why it is important to offer a choice [26].

  • One-third of children stop practising sports when they enter adolescence [27].
  • Girls who practise no sport at the age of 10 years have only a 10% chance of being active at the age of 25 years [28].
  • Children from low-income families are three times as likely never to have practised any organized physical activity or sport [29].
What can government do to support intramural and extracurricular activities?
  • Ensure adequate funding to sustain extracurricular physical activities, particularly in disadvantaged communities.
  • Ensure funding for and access to suitable, safe, and quality installations and equipment.
  • Provide greater support to service providers responsible for extracurricular activities and recognize extracurricular involvement in educational tasks, particularly for physical education and health teachers.
  • Ensure appropriate training for kinesiologists, coaches, and other persons involved in providing physical and sports activities in order to give them the means to set up safe, quality activities that emphasize the pleasure of being active and that meet the specific needs of certain client groups more at risk of remaining inactive, particularly girls.
  • Offer financial support for transportation for the purpose of extracurricular activities and revise the rules for outings.
  • In elementary schools, offer daycare service providers appropriate training and support for organizing physical activities and active games.
What can schools do to support intramural and extracurricular activities?
  • Offer a vast choice of physical and sports activities that are:
    • varied and fit the tastes and schedules of young girls and boys, as well as the financial means of families;
    • geared as much to initiation and recreation as to competition and excellence;
    • practised in an organized, structured context or freely and informally;
    • adapted to the level of development of children and to their skill level, taking account of their individual characteristics (sex, age, ability);
      • for young children, place the emphasis on initiation and experimentation activities rather than competitive and highly structured ones;
      • for adolescent boys and girls, underscore the social aspect by organizing, for example, get-togethers and games associated with the physical and sports activities;
    • centred on play and pleasure;
    • held in an atmosphere of respect and trust.
  • In elementary school, promote active play in daycare services.
  • In secondary school, at lunchtime, offer intramural physical and sports activities.
  • Offer more extracurricular physical and sports activities, with special attention paid to 7th and 8th graders.
  • Offer young people, particularly adolescent girls, the possibility to develop their leadership skills and become empowered relative to their practice of physical and sports activities and involve them in decision making.
  • Make sure that service providers in charge of extracurricular activities have followed basic training in coaching and offer them complementary training opportunities regarding client groups at higher risk of remaining inactive.
  • Establish partnerships between the school, the municipality, and youth organizations in order to optimize the use of installations and equipment.
What can municipalities do to support intramural and extracurricular activities?
  • Maintain and develop agreements with schools to optimize the availability and utilization of infrastructures and equipment.
  • Support coordination among associations, community groups, and schools for the practice of physical and sports activities.
     
Integrate physical activity in other teaching programs

Integrating physical activity in other teaching programs not only allows all students to be more active on a daily basis but also fosters the appearance of factors conducive to learning [30, 31, 32, 33]. By offering teachers appropriate training and support in setting up activities, it is possible to integrate in the class schedule short periods in which to be active outside of physical education and health courses [34].

The Mon école s’active (My school’s on the move) project conducted by the Université de Sherbrooke demonstrated that a minimum of 20 minutes of physical activity per day, regardless of when they are taken and how they are distributed across the class schedule, has beneficial effects on students [35]. The teachers noted increased capacity for memorization, improved attention skills and concentration, and better classroom behaviour [36].

What can government do to encourage physical activity in other teaching programs?
  • Offer all teachers appropriate training in healthy living habits.
  • Develop a supply of services to accompany teachers in implementing physical activities.
  • Make sure that preschools offer 30 minutes per day of active periods so as to contribute to the psychomotor development of preschoolers, as stipulated under Competency 1: To perform sensorimotor actions effectively in different contexts of the Québec Education Program [37].
  • Integrate courses on children’s sensorimotor development and on health education in training for providers of daycare services and for all teachers, while respecting the competencies specific to physical education and health teachers.
What can schools do to encourage physical activity in other teaching programs?
  • Recognize the involvement and foster the support and expert roles of physical education and health teachers in:
    • Integrating daily active time in other school subjects in elementary and secondary school or in specific projects.
    • Integrating the development of a healthy and active lifestyle among students in the school’s educational project, success plan or management agreement
       
Organize and direct active recesses in well-designed and -equipped schoolyards

The schoolyard is an ideal place to foster the practice of physical activities, be it during recess, lunchtime, extracurricular activities, daycare, or before and after class time. Children and youth are more likely to be active in a well-designed schoolyard with some greenery, playground markings, and a variety of sports equipment [38].

  • In elementary school, along with a well-designed and equipped schoolyard, offering structured activities allows maximizing the opportunities to be active [39].
  • In secondary school, the schoolyard is the place where many students “hang out” before and after class and during lunchtime [40]. Given that adolescents prefer to practise physical activities freely and without supervision, a well-designed and equipped schoolyard could be an interesting means to get them to be more active [41].

Recess allows young people to develop different physical, social, and intellectual abilities [42, 43, 44]. In disadvantaged communities, this is often one of the few moments in the week, along with physical education and health courses, when students can be physically active with their friends [45].

This period of physical activity contributes also to the children’s academic and educational success [46]. After benefitting from a period of recess, students are less agitated and show better attention, concentration, and behaviour upon returning to class [47, 48, 49].

The Basic school regulation for preschool, elementary and secondary education prescribes two periods of recess per day in elementary school without specifying their minimum duration, whereas no recess is prescribed by law in secondary schools [50].

In addition to maximizing the opportunities to be active, a well-designed and -equipped schoolyard with structured activities seems, also, to reduce violent behaviour [51, 52].

Tools and funding are available to help and support schools revamp their schoolyards and offer structured activities during recess. Among these, the Quebec government has set up a special financial assistance program to help schools beautify their schoolyards (Measure 50530). However, the complexity of the process and the limits of the financial assistance provided curtail the number of schools ready to invest in an application submission.

What can government do to maximize physical activity in schoolyards?
  • Instruct elementary schools to offer a minimum of 30 minutes of active recess per day.
  • Give schools the resources to design and equip a schoolyard appropriately and to offer proper structured activities and supervision (e.g., the guide Ma cour : un monde de plaisir).
  • Improve, facilitate, and simplify the application process regarding the financial assistance offered by the government to schools wishing to improve their schoolyards.
  • Offer schoolyard supervisors proper training in how to set up, direct, and supervise activities.
  • Provide the financial resources necessary to allow schools to have access to enough quality equipment and material outside of physical education and health courses (e.g., recess, lunchtime, daycare, physical activities in the classroom).
What can schools do to maximize physical activity in schoolyards?
  • In elementary school, ensure that structured, fun, physical activities be organized during periods spent in the schoolyard.
  • Use schoolyards more and design them for safety and versatility.
  • Involve and train students in leading activities during recess.
  • Make schoolyards available outside of class time (evenings, weekends, and summer).
     
Encourage active transportation between home and school

Walking or biking to school is an excellent way for children and adolescents to be more active on a daily basis [53]. The short distance between homes and educational establishments allows a larger number of children to have the chance to get to school by foot or bicycle.

It has been demonstrated that children who use active transportation to get to and from school can accumulate up to 45 minutes more of daily physical activity compared with children who use motorized transportation [54]. Moreover, each kilometre walked on a daily basis is associated with a nearly 5% reduction of the likelihood of being obese [55].

However, fewer and fewer children walk or bicycle to school.

  • In 1971: about 80% of Canadian children 7-8 years old walked to school [56].
  • Today:
    • In elementary school, nearly 70% of students do not walk or bicycle to school on a regular basis [57].
    • In secondary school, nearly 60% of students engage in practically no active transportation during the school year [58].

The presence of sidewalks and pedestrian and bicycle pathways increases the practise of physical activity among children [59, 60]. The installation of secure bicycle stands and the availability of storage space for protective gear, also, foster active transportation to school [61].

Tools and funding are available to schools and municipalities to foster active transportation to school among youth.


What can government do to encourage active transportation?
  • Offer tools and financial support to municipalities to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, including through the implementation of traffic-calming measures, in order to facilitate active transportation.
  • Make sure to build and keep schools in residential neighbourhoods.
What can municipalities do to encourage active transportation?
  • Favour rules and regulations, urban planning, and neighbourhood designs that give preference to safe, active transportation (e.g., traffic calming, sidewalks, bicycle paths).
  • Render school zones safer through the implementation of various measures (e.g., traffic calming, school-bus loading zone) and ensure established rules are respected (e.g., no-stop zone for automobiles, speed limit of 30 km/h, no parking within 5 metres of pedestrian crosswalk).
  • In partnership with school boards and schools, implement a tailored school transportation plan that will improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists between home and school.
  • Valorize active transportation and raise awareness among different road-users about the importance of adopting safe behaviours, respecting pedestrians and cyclists, and sharing the road with them.
What can schools do to encourage active transportation?
  • Revise school transportation policies in favour of active transportation (e.g., limit on-site parking, define territory taking account of pedestrian potential).
  • Facilitate measures for accompanying elementary school students who walk or bicycle to school.
  • Valorize active transportation to school in the eyes of young people and their parents and contribute to promotion and awareness efforts.
  • Install bicycle stands.
  • Offer young people basic training in how to walk and bicycle alone safely.
     

These recommendations were formulated by a committee of experts composed of the following organizations:

  • Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de l’Estrie
  • Égale Action
  • ÉquiLibre
  • Faculté d’éducation physique et sportive de l’Université de Sherbrooke
  • Fédération des éducateurs et éducatrices physiques enseignants du Québec
  • Fédération des kinésiologues du Québec
  • Québec en Forme
  • Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec
  • SPORTSQUEBEC
  • Vélo Québec
     

For young people to feel like being active now and later in life, it is essential that they experience physical activity in a positive way. It is therefore necessary to offer them quality supervision and fun, structured activities that take place in an atmosphere of respect and trust and that fit different individual characteristics (sex, age, ability). To maximize the gains for young people, it is important also to consider the duration, intensity, frequency, and nature of the physical activities proposed.

Would you like to discuss this topic with us?

Contact Corinne Voyer, Director:

 

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