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News Release

May 20, 2005

Kids Say Barriers Keeping Them From Being Fit, Study Finds

Teenagers believe there are too many obstacles to becoming and staying physically active, according to new research by a University of Guelph professor. John Dwyer, a specialist in applied human nutrition, says it’s part of an alarming pattern of inactivity among Canada’s youth, and he’s worried about the effect on the population’s physical and mental health.

Dwyer’s study, conducted with Kenneth Allison of the University of Toronto’s Department of Public Health Sciences, explores male adolescents’ perceived barriers to physical activity. The research appears in the spring 2005 issue of the journal Adolescence. “Once we identify the barriers to physical activity, we can take steps to overcome them by developing and offering programs that adequately deal with some of these issues,” Dwyer said.

For the study, he and his collaborators conducted focus groups with youth from three public schools in different regions of Toronto. The groups consisted of both inactive and active teens.

The researchers found that psychological factors play a key role in explaining why 15- and 16-year-old males are physically inactive. For example, many students said they don’t participate in school sports because they fear they lack the skills needed to make a team. “If you don't have much confidence in your ability to be physically active, you’re not going to be physically active,” said Dwyer, adding such thinking can also lead people to make excuses for not exercising. The results suggest that many adolescents might be more active if there were more non-competitive programs offered that emphasize fun and skill development, he said.

Many teenagers also said they don’t have enough time to exercise, citing schoolwork, household chores and part-time jobs as the major deterrents. But Dwyer is skeptical; he speculates that it’s more of a priority issue than a time issue. Teenagers often choose to spend leisure time watching television or browsing the Internet instead of pursuing pastimes that are more active.

The study also identified other key obstacles that teenagers believe keep them from getting physical. They include income, peer influence and environmental barriers, such as the cost of programs and access to recreational facilities and equipment.

In a separate project involving a national phone survey, Dwyer found a trend of decreasing physical activity among 13- to 18-year-olds. The results of both studies have him concerned. Since 1981, the percentage of obese children in Canada has tripled, and less than half of all youth are physically active enough for optimal growth and development. Non-active youth are more prone to stress, low self-esteem and depression, he said.

To help encourage activity in youth, parents of young children should limit the time spent in sedentary activities, he said. When children become teenagers, parents can best influence their choices by being positive role models, such as by limiting the amount of time they themselves spend watching TV.

Dwyer is currently analysing results of a survey of 1,200 teachers and principals in Ontario about opportunities for school-based physical activity. He is also one of 12 people across the country chosen by Health Canada to serve on its external Food Guide Advisory Committee, which is part of the team working to revise Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating.

Prof. John Dwyer
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
(519) 824-4120, Ext. 52210

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rebecca Kendall, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982.

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