Nova Scotia Study Reveals Youth Physical Activity and Eating Habits

A study of more than 1,500 students released on June 7 will better inform government on addressing the rise in obesity and preventable chronic disease among youth.

Grade 3, 7 and 11 students took part in the study which measured physical activity levels and nutrition among youth.

Keeping Pace shows physical activity levels continue to decline, and that a majority of youth do not meet the recommended servings from Canada's Food Guide. Similar studies were conducted in 2002 and 2006, with students in more than 80 schools across the province.

In 2003, 2006 and 2010 youth wore accelerometers to see if they accumulated the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, on at least five days of the week.

In the 2006 and 2010 studies, students also recorded their eating habits to see, among other things, if they met their recommended dietary intake, the types of foods they ate, and food security in the home.

"Nova Scotia is a province with high rates of chronic disease and illness, which if left unchecked will have long-term impacts on our healthcare system," said Dr. Robert Strang, chief public health officer of Nova Scotia. "How active youth are, and their eating habits, are important factors in their long term health and the collective health of Nova Scotians."

Highlights from the study include:

  • In Grade 3, about 80 per cent of boys and girls meet the physical activity standard on five or more days per week, and by Grade 11 this number significantly drops to about five per cent of boys and less than one per cent of girls
  • In Grades 7 and 11, boys are more involved and active than girls, and less than 20 per cent of students walk or bike to school
  • In the after school time period from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Grade 7 and 11 students get less than 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
  • The proportion of youth who do not meet the minimum servings for vegetables and fruit is particularly high, ranging from 78 per cent of Grade 7 boys to 89 per cent of Grade 11 girls.
  • Among Grade 7 and 11 students, a higher percentage of boys consumed caffeinated drinks than girls.
  • From Grades 3 to 11, results suggest more girls than boys will become overweight, but more boys than girls will become obese.

The research was led by St. Francis Xavier University researchers Angie Thompson with the department of human kinetics, and Laurie Wadsworth with department of human nutrition.