Statistics Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Fitness of Canadian children and youth: Results from the 2007-2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey

by Mark S. Tremblay, Margot Shields, Manon Laviolette, Cora L. Craig, Ian Janssen and Sarah Connor Gorber

Abstract
Keywords
Findings
Authors
What is already known on this subject?
What does this study add?

Abstract

Background

The fitness of Canadian children and youth has not been measured in more than two decades, a period during which childhood obesity and sedentary behaviours have increased.  This paper provides up-to-date estimates of the fitness of Canadians aged 6 to 19 years.

Data source and methods

Data are from the 2007-2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS), the most comprehensive direct health measures survey ever conducted on a nationally representative sample of Canadians.  Descriptive statistics for indicators of body composition, aerobic fitness and musculoskeletal fitness are provided by sex and age group, and comparisons are made with  the 1981 Canada Fitness Survey (CFS).

Results

Fitness levels of children and youth have declined significantly and meaningfully since 1981, regardless of age or sex.  Significant sex differences exist for most fitness measures.  Fitness levels change substantially between ages 6 and 19 years.  Youth aged 15 to 19 years generally have better aerobic fitness and body composition indicators than 20- to 39-year-olds.

Interpretation

This decline in fitness may result in accelerated chronic disease development, higher health care costs, and loss of future productivity.

Keywords

adiposity, aerobic fitness, anthropometry, body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, flexibility, muscular endurance, musculoskeletal fitness, obesity, physical fitness, strength

Findings

Childhood obesity and inactivity have been at the forefront of child health concerns in Canada in recent years, with compelling evidence that childhood obesity is rising and inactivity levels are high. These trends are particularly important given the strength of the evidence demonstrating the health consequences of childhood obesity and the benefi ts of physical activity to childhood health and wellness. [Full text]

Authors

Mark S. Tremblay (613-737-7600 ext. 4114; mtremblay@cheo.on.ca) is with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute and Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa.  Margot Shields (613-951-4177; Margot.Shields@statcan.gc.ca) and Sarah Connor Gorber are with the Health Analysis Division and Manon Laviolette is with the Physical Health Measures Division at Statistics Canada.  Cora L. Craig is with the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute.  Ian Janssen is with the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen’s University

What is already known on this subject?

  • Childhood obesity has risen significantly over the past 20 to 30 years.
  • Excess adiposity in childhood is associated with elevated cardio-metabolic disease risk.
  • Even in childhood, strong evidence indicates a direct relationship between fitness and health.
  • Boys generally demonstrate better aerobic fitness and strength than girls, while girls demonstrate better flexibility.
  • Aerobic fitness, relative to body weight, declines with age through childhood and adolescence and is lower in girls than boys.

What does this study add?

  • At age 12 years, Canadian boys and girls are now taller and heavier than in 1981.
  • Based on a variety of direct measures of anthropometry from the Canadian Health Measures Survey, the body composition of Canadian children and youth is less healthy than in 1981.
  • The strength and flexibility of boys and girls has declined significantly since 1981.
  • Increases in childhood obesity and overweight are related to increased adiposity, not greater muscularity.