Fitness of Canadian children: range from traditional Inuit to sedentary city dwellers, and assessment of secular changes

Med Sport Sci. 2007;50:91-103. doi: 10.1159/000101354.


Large amounts of motor performance test data have been collected in Canada, as in Europe and other countries, but even where representative population samples have been selected, interpretation of the findings is difficult, and most conclusions remain tenuous. Urban Canadian children apparently showed a small increase of physical performance from the mid- 1960s through to about 1980, related in part to intensive governmental promotion of physical fitness and changes in gender roles of female students over this period. The two most recent decades have been marked by a shift of focus to health-related tests, the results showing a small but progressive deterioration in health-related fitness, with an accumulation of body fat, as documented by increases in body mass indices and skinfold thicknesses. In 1970, the fitness levels of urban children were substantially inferior to that of Inuit students, living in the high arctic and practicing a traditional, physically active lifestyle. However, by 1990, the Inuit children had adopted many of the sedentary habits typical of Canadian city dwellers, and had lost much of their previous advantage. At this stage, most Canadian students were not reaching their fitness potential, but their physical condition could be enhanced - in urban centers by an augmented physical education programme, and in the Inuit community by participation in programmes of active leisure. At present, Canadian students seem to be somewhat more fit than those in the US, but less fit than their peers in some European countries. Nevertheless, international comparison of Canadian data is currently hampered by differences in measurement techniques and failure of many investigators to test representative population samples.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Body Composition
  • Body Mass Index
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Child Welfare / trends*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inuits / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Motor Activity*
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Public Health / trends*
  • Rural Health / trends
  • Sex Factors
  • Urban Health / trends