School environments and physical activity initiatives
Whole-of-school approaches are often initiated by policy decisions which influence school environment activities. A whole-of-school approach involves the prioritization of physical activity initiatives within school environments such as active commuting, daily structured and unstructured physical exercise opportunities, supportive school policies, student involvement in planning physical activities, and infrastructure which encourages staying active.1
Policy at the federal level
The report Let’s Get Moving calls on governments and community leaders to recognize the need for 30 minutes of daily student physical education to develop physical literacy while encouraging the education system to increase physical activity across the school day and minimize sedentary time.
School-based active transport may increase physical activity, particularly among primary school children.
Multi-component school interventions have been shown to consistently increase and sustain physical activity among children and adolescent students.
Institutional uses, which include schools and recreation centres, need to appropriately fit with the character of the neighbourhood. Large, developed institutional sites often discourage walking and other forms of active transportation by disrupting street networks.
By focusing on shared use of streets, reduced parking, densely populated buildings, and the integration of buildings with the street environment, cities can encourage active transportation and create healthier neighbourhoods.
Provincial/territorial school environment policy analysis
The degree of policy adoption is HIGH — most jurisdictions have adopted comprehensive evidence-informed policy action. This rating is expected as school curricula are mandated at the provincial and territorial levels.
- Policies related to a whole-of-school approach exist across all provinces and territories but vary in comprehensiveness and potential for impact.
- All provinces and territories have school curricula that include physical education or health and physical education. However, not all provinces and territories require schools to provide students with daily physical activity.
- Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia require students to have weekly physical education, whereas Nunavut and Manitoba require daily physical education. The minimum amount of physical education required varies from 75-150 minutes per week and 20-30 minutes per day. There is also variation in the grades of students that are addressed by these requirements.
- Alberta and Ontario have a Daily Physical Activity Policy, which is separate from the physical education or health and physical education curriculum, that requires schools to provide students with 20-30 minutes of daily physical activity. British Columbia’s Daily Physical Activity Policy has been phased out as new curriculum was implemented in 2020. The government remains committed to providing physical activity opportunities to all kindergarten to grade 12 students.
- Other examples of policies that encourage physical activity in school settings include New Brunswick’s Student Physical Activity Safety Standards, which outlines safety standards in schools, and Prince Edward Island’s Winter Wellness Day Act, which celebrates and promotes physical activity in schools once a year. In addition, Manitoba has funding to support eligible schools invest in physical activity programming, and Quebec’s framework policy for healthy eating and a physically active lifestyle aims to increase opportunities for physical activity in school settings.
- All provinces and territories have regulations that address physical activity in early childhood education and care centres.
- All provinces and territories require centres to provide suitable play spaces, such as safe outdoor play areas, to support the physical development of children.
- Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador require centres to provide children with daily opportunities for physical activity. In Northwest Territories and Nunavut, this must include at least 30 minutes of physical activity that promotes physical fitness; in addition, it is recommended that centres do not rely on outdoor play time to achieve this requirement.
- Opportunities for action in this area include expanding the comprehensiveness of physical activity policies in schools and early childhood education and care centres to require at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day for all age groups.
Municipal school environment policy analysis
The degree of policy adoption is LOW – no or very few jurisdictions have adopted evidence-informed policy action, and/or the breadth of the policy action is limited in scope. This rating is expected as school curricula are mandated at the provincial and territorial levels and municipalities have little influence over physical activity requirements in schools. There is an opportunity however, for municipalities to work with school boards to increase physical activity opportunities, for example, increasing access to school-owned recreational spaces to students outside of school hours.
- Policies related to school environments and physical activity do not exist (0%) across the 31 included municipalities. There is an opportunity however, for municipalities to work with school boards to increase physical activity opportunities, for example, increasing access to school-owned recreational spaces to students outside of school hours.
Although some students benefitted from an on-line learning experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, many students were negatively impacted by school closures and restrictions on physical education and organized sports. Decreases were seen in active transportation (e.g., walking or cycling to get to school), recreation (e.g., participation in sports inside and outside of school), and school-related activities (e.g., gym class, daily physical activity (DPA) sessions). More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of the evolving pandemic on school environments, physical activity, and cancer rates.
1 - International Society for Physical Activity and Health. 2021. Resources. https://www.ispah.org/Resources/