7 lessons from comparing our Report Card to 37 other countries

Do you ever wonder how the physical activity of Canadian kids compares to children around the world? Now you don’t have to.

For the first time, the grades from the ParticipACTION Report Card have been compared to grades from 37 other countries across six continents. The findings reveal some interesting facts, amazing insights and practical lessons for Canada and the rest of the world.

How we compare

In general, Canada has above-global-average grades in physical activity infrastructure and programs, yet is trailing at the back of the pack in grades that measure physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

While only 9% of Canadian kids get the recommended 60 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity every day, in Slovenia a whopping 86% of boys and 76% of girls get enough. This is thanks in large part to their school system, which makes physical education a priority.

Their primary schools offer access to 77 minutes of in-school, professionally taught physical activity each day. Not surprisingly, Slovenia received an A in School.

Another example is Zimbabwe, where over 80% of children use active rather than motorized transport to get to and from school (A- in Active Transportation), compared to just 25% of 5-to-17-year olds in Canada (D). Even though there may be no other choice but for Zimbabwean children and youth to make walking or biking to school a way of life, they see physical activity as an enjoyable and integral part of their lifestyle and heritage.

A final example comes from New Zealand, where children are quite active because they have so many opportunities to play. Kids there spend an average of 78 minutes each day in free play.

You can learn more about all the specific grades and comparisons at this page that we’ve set up with a fun, interactive map.

The Lessons

The comparisons, led by Dr. Mark Tremblay, the Chief Scientific Officer of the Report Card, reveal some key takeaways, including:

1. In countries where kids move the most, physical activity is a way of life. It’s the default. An integral part of everyday life. A cultural norm.

2. There are a lot of ways to tackle the problem of inactivity. As the comparisons highlight well, Slovenia, Zimbabwe and New Zealand have found success with very different approaches. More activity in schools, more opportunities for active play, or a greater emphasis on active transportation are all viable ways forward. It’s about finding what works best.  

3. According to Tremblay, “We need to encourage and re-establish Canadian cultural norms where being physically active year round, through outdoor play, transportation, recreation and sport, are the Canadian standard, not the exception.”

4. Elio Antunes, President and CEO of ParticipACTION, says we need to “shift social norms from a culture of convenience to a culture of encouraging and embracing physical activity throughout the day, every day.”

5. It will take many facets of Canadian society, working together, to shift behaviours to get our children and youth more physically active. Inactive modes of transportation to and from school, too much screen time and being too busy for free play are all contributing to Canada’s lagging grades in the comparisons.

6. Being a good role model should be a top priority for parents. Good habits develop early, so get active with your children at a young age and teach them the importance of physical activity and healthy living. This includes incorporating physical activity throughout the day, reducing screen time, and prioritizing good quality sleep.

7. Parents should attempt to avoid hyper-parenting and give children the freedom to decide how high to climb, to explore the woods, get dirty, play hide ’n seek, wander in their neighbourhoods, balance, tumble and rough-house, especially outdoors, so they can be active, build confidence, autonomy and resilience, develop skills, solve problems and learn their own limits. In essence, loosen the reins a little and let kids be kids.

To find out more about how Canada’s grades stack up against those from the 37 other countries please visit our Global Comparisons page.