Active Canada 20/20: A call for a national physical activity strategy

With physical inactivity identified by the World Health Organization as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, the need for a national physical activity strategy is as strong as ever

Nicole Graham - 20 April 2016

The vast majority of adults and children do not meet the minimum guidelines for physical activity - a statistic that is concerning for the overall health and longevity of Canadians. Currently, a national physical activity strategy does not exist and physical inactivity continues to be a pressing public health concern.

Up to this point, Canada's approach to increasing physical activity (PA) has been fragmented, which has led to little or no progress in this area. Currently, 85% of adults and 93% of children and youth are not meeting Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. Dr. John C. Spence, professor with the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta, finds the lack of government support is leading to physical inactivity. He and his colleagues have set out to influence policy by establishing the basis for a national strategy.

"We've seen government support through the development of the Canadian Sport Policy and the National Recreation Framework, and while recreation, sport and physical activity do intersect, a dedicated national physical activity strategy is needed too," says Dr. Spence. "The alarming stats speak for themselves."

This is where Active Canada 20/20 comes in.

Active Canada 20/20 is evidence-based and provides both a national plan and a commitment to action from the national government and public sectors with a view to engage the private sector and the general public. The unique aspect of Active Canada 20/20 is that it is sector-driven, meaning it was influenced and created by knowledgeable people from across Canada concerned about PA, and done with very little federal government involvement.

"Without demonstrable leadership, the PA [physical activity] sector has responded with a collective call to action to engage Canadians on all levels to reverse the declining physical activity rates," explains Spence. "Over 1,700 stakeholders have participated in and contributed to the consultation process of Active Canada 20/20, and we have received support from sport and recreation ministers at the federal, provincial and territorial levels of government who have tasked their people to carry the action plan through."

Dr. Spence and his colleagues recently published a paper, Active Canada 20/20: A physical activity plan for Canada, where they lay out the methodology of the action plan and outline an implementation strategy. The full paper can be accessed through the published in Canada Journal of Public Health, can be accessed here.

More information about Active Canada 20/20, including the full action plan can be found at

With the research, consultation process and development of a physical activity action plan already completed, the next steps in bringing Active Canada 20/20 to life are crucial.

"We need to engage all those involved in public health promotion, service provision and advocacy at the municipal, provincial and national levels to incorporate Active Canada 20/20 principles into practice and planning, thus increasing the physical activity levels of every person in Canada."

"Furthermore, governments, as well as the private, not-for-profit and philanthropic sectors should demonstrate leadership and continue their efforts toward providing the substantial and sustained resources needed to recalibrate Canadians' habitual PA patterns."

"Completing these aforementioned steps," Spence says, "will ultimately improve the overall health of our citizens."