How do you improve children’s fitness and activity levels in order to form positive habits for the rest of their lives?
Angelo Belcastro has been studying the impact of physical activity and fitness on children’s health for over 30 years. His research has allowed him to create an approach called “Guided Active Play” to inspire healthy levels of activity for children and that is used in his KINKIDS program in local neighbourhoods. This program serves several important goals, engaging community collaborators and students, as well as a generating data for further research.
Globally, there is a rising concern with health and fitness. Obesity is increasing, and cardio-respiratory health is decreasing. A seven-year-old 20 years ago versus a seven-year-old today is very different, health-wise. I’m involved in Active Healthy Kids Canada, which puts out a report card every year on the state of children’s health. Now, only 7% of children in Canada meet Health Canada’s guidelines for physical activity for children between the ages of 5 and 11, which is 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day. It seems so simple to just get kids to be more active, but if you’ve ever worked with children, you’ll know that you can’t really force children to do anything.
We can’t do things to the community; we have to create change with them.
When I started researching, we didn’t know if you could structure play to include enough fitness to make a difference to children’s health. We spent several years developing the Guided Active Play approach, and found that it does have an effect on the health and fitness of the kids we work with. In our summer camps, my students monitor the activity levels of the kids every 10 seconds – are they moderately or vigorously active? And by monitoring them and recording the results, we’ve noticed that their cardiovascular health always improves. Fun play increases kids’ aerobic activity.
We gained excellent collaborators when the York U - TD Community Engagement Centre connected us to the local Driftwood Community Recreation Centre. Since joining the School of Kinesiology and Health Science in 2010, the commitment and engagement of the staff at Driftwood Recreation Community Centre aimed at improving the health and fitness of children through physical activity has been a major strength of the project. For the past few years, we’ve been running KINKIDS summer camps and after-school programs working together with administrative and program staff. It is critical that KINKIDS is conducted in the community, by the community, and for the community. We don’t just want kids to be active for the camps or workshops we run; we want to provide an environment to help change their behavior to be more active for life. If it’s going to be effective, sustainable, and long-lasting, then the needs of the community have to be met as well.
My next steps involve increasing the scope of KINKIDS and making this project more sustainable. I want to provide the opportunity for other communities to use this approach to get kids moving. Cost is a challenge, in part because the research on the program is still ongoing. We need to keep in touch with all the places the program takes place, so that we can monitor the results and continue to improve the program. I want to get more kids more active in the community.