That the Standing Committee on Health be instructed to undertake a study on the level of fitness and physical activity of youth in Canada and provide recommendations and report on: (a) strategies to increase the level of fitness and physical activity for youth; (b) the economic, social, cultural, and physical and mental health benefits associated with increased fitness and physical activity among youth; (c) the impact of increased fitness and physical activity in relation to anti-bullying; and (d) that the Committee report its findings and recommendations to the House no later than June 2019.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour, as always, to rise in the House of Commons, and it is especially honourable today as this may be the last hour of Private Members' Business before this glorious chamber is shuttered for 10 to 15 years while it receives much-needed renovations. Very soon, it will be shut down for that long.
In my opinion, it is fitting that such an important subject as the physical activity of youth could be the last topic for Private Members' Business. It is my sincere hope that when this magnificent building reopens in 10 to 15 years, we would have in place a solid federal framework for promoting Canadian youth to be physically active.
Mr. Speaker, you have read my motion. It seeks to do three things. One is to develop strategies to raise the level of physical activity of youth. The advantages of doing so are economic, social, cultural, physical and mental. Improving the mental health of children also helps make them more resilient in the face of bullying.
This motion, for me, comes from a personal place. I am the father of two young children. I am also the son of a phys. ed. teacher. My father, unfortunately, passed away the year I was elected to the chamber and did not get to see me as a member of Parliament. In part, this motion is a tribute to his memory and the fact he always taught me to be a good sport, to take part in physical activity and to make sports part of my childhood, and for that I will be forever grateful.
Physically active youth have always been known to be healthy, but only recently have we realized that the health benefits of physical activity go beyond strong muscles and strong bones. The social benefits are innumerable. New evidence shows that the mental health benefits are almost as great. Children who are active are more resilient to bullying, less prone to bouts of depression and have fewer suicidal thoughts in adolescence and adulthood. Those are all noble goals that the House should pursue.
My motion directs the health committee to study the benefits of physical activity in youth. There is a large amount of evidence out there and it continues to grow. This evidence needs to be brought together by the committee. The committee, in my assessment and opinion, should then make recommendations to the House to indicate what role the federal government should play in making sure there is an adequate federal framework to encourage health promotion in our children.
I grew up many years ago and I was always involved in sports, as I mentioned. However, I always also played outside with my friends. The norm was that we left the house as soon as we could, either on our bikes or running to our friend's house, and as long as we were home when the street lights were on, everything was good. We had lunch at whoever's house was closest to us while we were playing road hockey or baseball in an open field or soccer, or some other game that we invented.
It is these activities that help a young child's brain develop, and not just develop to play sports but also with other motor skills. It helps them deal with social situations. It helps them develop conflict skills. As members know, all of these things are important when people move from childhood to adolescence and adulthood. The evidence, as I said, is copious. It needs to be harnessed and it needs a federal push.
We have done some good work federally in this field. We recently funded Participaction to do some research and promote these activities. Also, just recently provincial-territorial and federal leaders and their ministers of sport came together and came up with a great report entitled “Let's Get Moving”, which has a great number of suggestions and a framework in which the federal government has a role to play. I suggest this type of evidence should be before the health committee when it decides what recommendations to make to the House.
Although, in my humble opinion, the benefits are indisputable, we just are not getting to where we need to be, for whatever reason. The health committee could help get us over that hump. Participaction recently came out with a report card grading many countries around the world. In overall physical activity, Canada scored a D+. Active play was a D, active transportation was a D-, sedentary behaviour was a D+ and physical fitness was a D. Schools graded well at B-. Community and environment scored a B+ and family and peers scored a C+. The average was C-. I think everyone in the House would agree we need to do better.
The importance of health, activity in youth and this subject comes home doubly when we see throughout Canada issues around mental health. We are starting to acknowledge the issues of mental health and the destigmatization of mental health issues. Mental health is a serious issue in this country. I think everyone in the House would agree. It is also particularly serious among our youth. A recent study from the Toronto District School Board compared stress levels of students in the last five years. They have increased significantly, so much so that some are unable to cope with the environment of being in school.
There is a problem that needs to be addressed. I do not think I will get much disagreement on that. However, the evidence is also starting to clearly show that physical activity in young people equips them well to deal with stress, mental health issues and even PTSD. An American study from a few years ago came to the same conclusion. The doctor of that study, Dr. Sibbold, said:
Given the substantial current focus on antibullying campaigns, it seemed to us that safe, cheap, and efficacious options are sorely needed to mitigate this growing problem. If we can prevent even one child from depression or self-harm, this is worth it, hands down.
I could not agree more with those sentiments. Bullying is a problem in our schools, as Dr. Sibbold alluded to. In my area we have a group that is very active against bullying, and it does a lot. Bully Free Community Alliance in York region does great work. It knows that physically active youth are less bullied, and just as importantly, are more able to cope when they are bullied. I think everyone agrees this is important.
As I said, there is much evidence out there. I had the opportunity to speak to a lot of stakeholders as I was going through this motion and before our first reading debate here today. A very active group in my riding, Activate Aurora, provided a lot of information. I spoke with people from the Nova Scotia fitness centre, Active for Life, Participaction and Recreation Canada.
Also, I had the pleasure just last Sunday of meeting Lisa Bowes, who is now a children's author. Some may remember her days as a sports reporter on TSN. She has come out with a new line of books entitled “Lucy Tries... ” and whatever sport it might be. It may be hockey or luge. There are a number of books out in the series. These books encourage youth to get involved in sports and to try new sports, which I think is key.
All of these people are working hard toward the same goal. Unfortunately, as is the case in many organizations in a country as big as Canada, they are not necessarily working together. The phrase “they are working in silos” applies.
If we seize this matter as a federal government, direct the health committee to do a study, then it can break down some of these barriers between these groups, share evidence and best practices and make some great recommendations that will make Canadians and Canadian children healthier.
Canadians love organized sports, and there are many great sports associations in all our ridings. I encourage all students, all children to get involved. However, it does not have to be organized sports. There needs to be a cultural shift in the country, where students play all day, like I did many years ago as a young child growing up in Queensville, Ontario just north of the riding I represent now, Newmarket—Aurora. They play without rules, without organizations and without structure. Some have used the phrase “free range children” in today's nomenclature, but it was the norm back then.
Too often today we have moved away from that to a norm of children not leaving the house, children needing to stay at home where they are safe and protected. We hear of incidents where children are walking down the sidewalk, perhaps going to the local park, and neighbours call the police to say that a nine or 10-year-old old girl is walking down street without her parents, as if that were some kind of an emergency.
I am not necessarily faulting the caller, but we need to have a cultural shift where that is the norm, where it is great, where it should be encouraged and where the person who sees that child walking down the street does not phone 911, but calls the parents to thank them for having an active child. If people are concerned about the child's safety, perhaps they could watch her for the 80 metres to ensure she gets to the park safely. That kind of culture engenders physical activity in students.
We can look at countries like Japan. Japan does not build schools any further than four kilometres apart from the students who go there. Every student in Japan walks to school. In Canada, I believe it is less than 20%. We have geographical limits that Japan may not. However, in areas where a school is less than three or four kilometres away, children should be encouraged to walk to school, or to bike to school and do it in groups. There is this concept of walking buses, where a group stops at everyone's house and picks another child up as it walks to the school.
We need to make this more of the norm and less of the exception. As I said, it is not just because we need children to be physically active, it is not just because we want children to be healthy physically; it is because we want them to be well-rounded adults. We want them to be able to cope with the stresses of real life.
A big issue that exists even now that did not five, 10 or 15 years ago, and I deal with it every day, especially with my seven year old, is screen time. Getting those tablets out of children's hands is almost impossible without strict discipline. Those who have children, especially seven year olds, will know how stubborn they can be. My sons Kolton and Kash can both be a little stubborn when it comes to this. However, we have to set the guidelines. I am not here to lecture people on parenting skills. I do not profess to be an expert in that field by any stretch of the imagination.
However, I can see first-hand that the problem is real. There is more distractions for children now than there was when I was a child. I think I had four or five channels to choose from, and I might have watched TV on Saturday mornings when Scooby-Doo was on, and it was not black and white TV; it was colour.
These are the types of real-life issues children are facing today. When we are replacing it with screen time, instead being physically active, then it makes that problem worse.
My request is a simple one. I truly do hope the House can rally around it. It is a completely non-partisan one in my humble opinion. However, we need the health committee to study this, bring the evidence together and come up with recommendations to ensure the federal government plays its role in ensuring our children are healthy, mentally, emotionally, socially, and they are getting to have a fulfilling life.
We as a federal government should set that framework to make that as likely as possible. I look forward to debate on this matter. I am hoping to have support across parties. If my motion is successful, I will look forward to the great work the health committee will do.