Families Count 2024: new resource on family structure now available


Families Count 2024 is now available

Getting Out, Getting Active and Family Well‑Being

Gaby Novoa and Nathan Battams

June 22, 2020

Summer 2020 will be a unique one for families, as communities across Canada cautiously continue to relax public health measures and restrictions and families manage major transitions at home, at work and in their communities.

Many parents are working from home for the first time, which can present some challenges but also opportunities to spend more time with their children and to foster healthy physical activity behaviours, which, after months of being in physical isolation, will likely be a welcome pursuit for many.

Families are shifting summer plans to manage uncertainties

People typically make family decisions based on choice and circumstance, and the coronavirus pandemic and public health measures have had an impact on both. Responding to a variety of factors related to the pandemic – including financial insecurity, a need or desire to remain close to manage work and family, some continued mobility restrictions and uncertainty whether restrictions will return – it’s not surprising that nearly 6 in 10 (59%) parents surveyed in late April reported that they have changed their vacation plans due to the pandemic, and 72% say that it’s unlikely that they will take a holiday this year.

Children and youth will also be adapting their plans and activities, as many summer camps and organized sports or activities will either be postponed or not taking place. While some organizations are set or pending announcements to open, the impact of the pandemic on family finances may deter some parents from registration in order to carefully manage expenses. Others may avoid sending their kids anywhere due to health concerns or anxiety, particularly if their children live with any immunodeficiency.

With more families spending time at home this summer and plans being changed and adapted, there are growing opportunities for many families to get outdoors and be active together.

Family support critical to children’s levels of physical activity

The newly released Family Influence: The 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth reports that less than 1 in 5 children and youth in Canada meet national guidelines for physical activity, sedentary and sleep behaviours.1 The report underlines the role of families in promoting healthy habits in its guiding Consensus Statement, which was developed through a national multidisciplinary expert panel:

Families can support children and youth in achieving healthy physical activity, sedentary and sleep behaviours by encouraging, facilitating, modelling, setting expectations and engaging in healthy movement behaviours with them. Other sources of influence are important (e.g., child care, school, health care, community, governments) and can support families in these pursuits.2

As the report states, youth’s physical activity levels, is greatly influenced by family social support – particularly during early childhood. This support is shown to be most effective when taking self-regulatory approaches and when grounded in specific actions, such as setting goals together. Studies assert that parents who make clearly defined plans – how, when, where – to encourage their child’s healthy movement behaviours are more likely to follow through. As role models, parents can have a significant impact: every additional 20 minutes of physical activity by a parent can mean an additional 5 minutes in their child’s daily physical activity.3

Outdoor play and location linked to well-being

A growing body of research demonstrates the link between well-being and access to parks and green spaces. In 2017, the majority of households in Canada (87%) reported having a park within 10 minutes of their home. Of these households, almost all (85%) reported that they had visited the park within the previous 12 months. Among households that reported that they did not have nearby access (13%), 39% nevertheless reported visiting a park or green space in the previous 12 months.4

Research has shown that a neighbourhood’s built environment can have an impact on the time children spend outdoors, with lower traffic volumes, access to a yard and neighbourhood greenness all associated with more time spent by children playing outdoors in one study.5

Research from Statistics Canada has found a strong association between time spent outdoors and levels of physical activity among children, as well as a positive impact on psychosocial health and lower likelihood of experiencing peer relationship problems.6 More than one-third (36%) of surveyed parents with children aged 5–17 said that they play active games with their kids.7 Since the start of the pandemic, nearly two-thirds (62%) of youth in Canada cited exercising outdoors.8

Outdoor play can foster “freedom, fun, creativity, and skill- and confidence-building.”9 Whether it’s walking through a park, playing a game in the front yard or going for a jog, getting outdoors and practising healthy behaviours with family can play an important role in supporting physical activity and wellness at any time, but are particularly important as families continue to navigate the COVID‑19 pandemic and new and/or adapted ways of coming together.

Gaby Novoa is responsible for Communications at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Nathan Battams is Communications Manager at the Vanier Institute of the Family.


  1. ParticipACTION, Family Influence: The 2020 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth (June 17, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2Zser6r.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Gordon Dewis, “Access and Use of Parks and Green Spaces: The Potential Impact of COVID‑19 on Canadian Households,” COVID‑19: A Data Perspective (June 9, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/2CfuT0f.
  5. Amalie Lambert et al., “What Is the Relationship Between the Neighbourhood Built Environment and Time Spent in Outdoor Play? A Systematic Review,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (October 11, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2N8nan1.
  6. Richard Larouche et al., “Outdoor Time, Physical Activity, Sedentary Time, and Health Indicators at Ages 7 to 14: 2012/2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey,” Health Reports, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-003-X (September 21, 2016). Link: https://bit.ly/2N8VvlU.
  7. ParticipACTION, The Brain + Body Equation: Canadian Kids Need Active Bodies to Build Their Best Brains. The 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth (2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2Y7qjJR.
  8. Rubab Arim, Leanne Findlay and Dafna Kohen, “The Health and Behavioural Impacts of COVID‑19 on Youth: Results from the Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1,” COVID‑19: A Data Perspective (May 15, 2020). Link: https://bit.ly/3e9rmyG.
  9. Lambert et al.

Understanding the Impact of Fort McMurray Wildfires on Foreign National Family Caregivers

The recent wildfire in northern Alberta, which began in early May and has only recently been brought under control, has had a profound impact on Fort McMurray and its surrounding communities. Approximately 2,400 buildings were destroyed, including many family homes and businesses, and the fire ravaged nearly 600,000 hectares of land. Many of the families in the region have experienced significant trauma due to their losses, the evacuation of more than 80,000 people and the overall impact on the community.

Live-in caregivers (foreign nationals living in Canadian homes and employed to provide child or adult care) working in and around Fort McMurray have been strongly affected by these events. These people comprise a unique and important workforce that is highly educated and experienced, and are “crucial to bridging work–family relations for their employers, especially those who work in the oil sands industry,” notes Dr. Sara Dorow, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Alberta in Live-in Caregivers in Fort McMurray: A Socioeconomic Footprint.

Dorow explores the impact of the wildfire on the caregiver workforce in a new study, Caregiver Policy in Canada and Experiences after the Wildfire: Perspectives of Caregivers in Fort McMurray, which reports on findings from an online survey of 56 live-in caregivers working in and around Fort McMurray.

Key findings include:

  • Caregiver evacuees are experiencing emotional and financial stress as a result of uncertainty with regard to their continued employment and housing – realities that are “tied together” through dependency on a single employer.
  • The fire has caused stress over the disruption to their pathway to permanent residency, which requires the completion of 24 months or 3,900 hours of work.
  • Despite these experiences, many expressed gratitude for the emergency relief funds and donations they have received from employers, friends, family and the community. Few report having applied for Employment Insurance.

The study was carried out as part of On the Move, a research partnership that includes the Vanier Institute of the Family and 40 researchers from across Canada and around the world. This partnership investigates how employment-related geographic mobility (E-RGM) affects households and communities, and how E-RGM influences and impacts Canadian prosperity.