Public education on physical activity
Public education can be an effective way to communicate evidence-informed, clear, and concise messages to large populations.1 Public education must include sufficient contact with most of the population to be effective at the population-level and must not only focus on motivating individuals, but also on reducing environmental and structural barriers to physical activity at the institutional and environmental level.2,3
Policy at the federal level
The report Let’s Get Moving engages the public to promote active living, sport and recreation. The Physical Activity and Sport Act aims to promote physical activity and encourage all Canadians to improve their health by integrating it into their daily lives, while the National Health and Fitness Day Act aims to educate the public on the significant benefits of physical activity.
Public education efforts are often supported or initiated by policy decisions which can provide a timely opportunity to communicate changes effectively.
Public education, including social media channels and internet-based interventions, have been shown to increase awareness, knowledge and encourage intention for physical activity.
Mass media campaigns are a promising practice to increase total population-level PA outcomes, especially when directly linked to community-based programs.4
While the public knows of the benefits of physical activity, its relationship to cancer risk may be less widely known. Limited evidence exploring knowledge and perceptions of the relationship between physical activity and cancer risk is available.
Provincial/territorial public education 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 public education efforts tend to be operationalized at a program or campaign level, rather than a policy level. Regardless, there are still opportunities for policy action at the provincial and territorial levels including policy commitments to support public education and embedding a public education lens into other physical activity policies.
- Although all provinces and territories have strategies, guidelines, campaigns or messaging related to physical activity; only six provinces have policies directly related to public education.
- Some provinces have designated certain days or weeks of the year to celebrate and promote physical activity. This includes the Alberta Get Outdoors Weekend Act, the Ontario Bike Month Act and PEI’s Winter Wellness Day Act.
- Alberta, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan have made policy commitments to promoting physical activity and fitness at the population level, while Quebec has committed to combat poverty and social exclusion by promoting access to sport and recreation to low-income individuals.
- Provinces and territories have an opportunity to increase the population’s level of physical activity by raising awareness of the importance of physical activity through policies that commit to promoting and celebrating it.
Municipal public education 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 public education efforts tend to be operationalized at a program or campaign level, rather than a policy level. Regardless, there are still opportunities for policy action to take place at the municipal level including policy commitments to support public education and embedding a public education lens into other physical activity policies.
- Policies related to public education exist across 9 of 31 (29%) included municipalities.
- No municipality reviewed has a stand-alone public education policy specific to physical activity; rather these principles are embedded within other municipal documents. This approach could be seen as weak compared to having dedicated policies specific to public education as public education efforts may not be seen as a high priority or spotlighted appropriately.
- Public education principles take a variety of forms including being embedded within the trail plans of Whitehorse and Hamilton, innovative pedestrian and cycling plans including Victoria’s Capital Regional District and Calgary, transit and transportation policies seen in Winnipeg and Edmonton, and few development plans such as Calgary.
- A stronger focus on public education efforts as it relates to innovative physical activity policy implementation could be adopted across all municipalities. This would better ensure that new policy directions and infrastructure supporting physical activity will achieve greater awareness and be available for similar communities to study.
Redeployment of budgets, priority areas, and staffing resources during the COVID-19 pandemic may have influenced the frequency and type of physical activity messaging distributed by governments. This may influence future uptake of physical activity pursuits among Canadians. More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of the evolving pandemic on public education and physical activity rates.
Regional/municipal public education policies in Canada
|Type of policy||Examples from included municipalities|
|Trail and pathway||Whitehorse; Hamilton; Brampton; Fredericton; Edmonton|
|General community/municipal||Yellowknife; Calgary; Edmonton; Winnipeg|
|Pedestrian/cycling||Victoria; Calgary; Edmonton|
|Active transportation and transit||Edmonton; Saskatoon; Winnipeg; Moncton|
Table presents links to relevant policies across 31 included municipalities. This table is for educational and reference purposes only and is not meant to be an exhaustive summary of all active policies in Canada.
1 - International Society for Physical Activity and Health. 2021. Resources. https://www.ispah.org/Resources/
2 - Heath, G.W., Parra, D.C., Sarmiento, O.L., Andersen, L.B., Owen, N., Goenka, S., … Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group. 2012. Evidence-based intervention in physical activity: lessons from around the world. Lancet 380(9838): 272-81. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22818939/
3 - King, A.C., Whitt-Glover, M.C., Marquez, D.X., Buman, M.P., Napolitano, M.A., Jakicic, J., … Tennant, B.L. 2019. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory, Committee Physical Activity Promotion: Highlights from the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Systematic Review. Medicine and Science in Sport and Medicine 51(6): 1340-1353. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31095090/
4 - Heath, G.W., Parra, D.C., Sarmiento, O.L., Andersen, L.B., Owen, N., Goenka, S., … Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group. 2012. Evidence-based intervention in physical activity: lessons from around the world. Lancet 380(9838): 272-81. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22818939/