Utility of Surveillance Research to Inform Physical Activity Policy: An Exemplar From Canada

J Phys Act Health. 2017 Mar;14(3):229-239. doi: 10.1123/jpah.2015-0698. Epub 2016 Dec 5.


Background: There are several well-known risk factor monitoring systems, but few examples of comprehensive surveillance systems designed specifically to inform physical activity (PA) policy. This paper examines the utility of Canada`s Physical Activity and Sport Monitoring System in guiding policy and practice.

Methods: Indicators were determined in conjunction with government, nongovernmental associations and academics. Serial measures were collected from representative population (telephone interviews, n = 4000 to 11,000) and setting-based (postal surveys, n = 1425 to 4304) surveys.

Results: Adult PA was higher in 2014 (47%) than 1998 (37%). The prevalence of knowledge about sufficient PA to meet national guidelines increased (31% to 57%). Most adults (66%) reported having many safe places to walk locally. Having policies to encourage walking and cycling when redeveloping communities increased by community size (5% to 37%). PA promotion was available in 10% to 15% of workplaces. Most parents (64%) provided transportation to support their child's PA. The prevalence of policies mandating daily PE increased 2001 to 2011 (36% to 55%), as did having no policy to hire qualified PE teachers (25% to 34%).

Conclusions: Canada's surveillance system has provided information for guiding policy planning, resource allocation, setting and tracking national goals, assessing changes in PA determinants, and evaluating national campaigns, naturally occurring experiments, and innovative policies.

Keywords: evaluation; exercise; strategy; trends.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Environment Design / statistics & numerical data
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Policy
  • Health Promotion / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Public Health Surveillance / methods*
  • Sports*
  • Transportation
  • Walking
  • Workplace / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult