HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Report
Pubdate: Sat, 05 Jun 2004
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2004 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Richard Starnes, CanWest News Service


But physically fit, computer literate

OTTAWA -- A disturbing number of Canadian teens are fat, lazy, eat poorly,
and smoke too much weed, according to a World Health Organization report. At
first glance, a comprehensive study of more than 150,000 young people from
35 countries suggests Canada is a nation of physically fit, computer
literate teenagers in generally good physical and mental health.

But John Freeman, one of the major Canadian contributors to Health Behaviour
in School-aged Children, suggests all is not as it might seem.

Freeman is part of a team of researchers from Queen's University in
Kingston, Ont., who shared in the report, which is conducted every four
years and interviews 11-,13- and 15-year-olds in Canada, the United States
and nearly all European countries. It covers a comprehensive list of health
and health-related behaviours.

Canada prides itself on its level of physical activity and, with our teens
ranking in the top five countries for physical activity at all age levels,
that pride appears to be legitimate.

Our young people also rank extremely high when it comes to computer use.
They were asked if they used a computer for three hours during the week.
Their answers left 11-year-olds ranked sixth, 13-year-olds third and
15-year-olds second. On the weekends, Canada rose to first place in the two
older categories.

So why, asks Freeman, are our youngsters among the most obese among the 35
countries? We sit sixth most obese among 13-year-olds and fourth among
15-year-olds, where the United States leads the list.

"This is high and seems to represent a strange juxtaposition with the
physical activity figures because we also have adolescents being more
sedentary in terms of the numbers of them using computers three or more
hours a day," he says.

"We are right near the top in that category and mid-range for TV watching.
So, they are more sedentary, more physically active and more obese. What's
happening here?"

The researchers say they believe the physical activity figures may be skewed
because promotion campaigns for active living in Canada encourage things
like walking up and down stairs or strolling to the corner store.

"Perhaps our adolescents are reporting activities others are not, which
would raise our ranking," says Freeman.

"Even if the figures are accurate, however you look at it, we are obese. It
is clear we must increase the level of physical activity and we must change
eating habits." Health Canada provided some of the funding for the report.

The survey also sheds a comparatively good light on Canadian teens and their
cigarette habits.

At 4.5 per cent for girls and 3.8 per cent for boys, our 13-year-olds are
about middle of the pack when it comes to smoking every day.

By the time they reach 15, the percentage reaches 11 per cent for girls and
12.8 per cent for boys. By comparison, Greenland is at the top of the list
in every category surveyed with their 15-year-olds past 50 per cent.

The report shows more Canadian 15-year-olds have used cannabis in the past
year than in any of the other 35 countries. About 37 per cent of girls and
43.3 per cent of boys admitted to using cannabis, more than double the

The report also reveals:

Canadian teens are in the bottom third at all ages when asked if they spent
three hours a day on homework and almost as low when asked the same question
about weekends.

Around 70 per cent of our under-11s eat breakfast compared to almost 90 per
cent of the table-topping Netherlands. At older ages, Canadian girls eat
breakfast progressively less -- 49.7 per cent at under-13 and 41.5 per cent
at under-15. Boys stand at 62 and 52.8 per cent respectively.

Canadians are in the top third of countries for eating fruit and vegetables;
in the lower third as soft drink consumers and candy eaters.
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