Is legislating physical activity the next step in public health?

In the same week that Active for Life contributing editor Jim Grove wrote that physical activity for kids should be legislated comes news that Ontario’s Chatham-Kent Board of Health has endorsed a recommendation that physical education classes be mandatory in all school through Grade 12.

The recommendations actually came from the Ontario Society of Physical Activity Promoters in Public Health, which is calling on the Ontario Ministry of Education to support the development of physical literacy in children. The organization has created a letter that endorses its advocacy effort.

In a presentation to the Chatham-Kent Board of Health, Chris Sherman, co-chair of OSPAPPH and a public health educator in the region, said:

Physical inactivity is attributed to 15% to 39% of seven chronic diseases (heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, breast cancer, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis), while the total economic burden of physical inactivity in Canada is estimated at $6.8 billion. Many children today lack the basic skills, knowledge and behaviours needed to live healthy, active lifestyles as shown by the startling rates of inactivity, obesity and decreased fitness. Physical literacy must be made a priority to reverse the trend of chronic disease and other issues related to physical activity.

Among the other recommendations that the board accepted included:

  • Mandatory assessment of the physical literacy of all students
  • Daily physical education programming delivered by specialists

Provincial governments are responsible for setting curriculum guidelines for education. To date, Manitoba is one of the only provinces to mandate physical education to the end of grade 12.

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