Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 95, Issue 6, pp 413–418 | Cite as

Physical Activity, Smoking, and Obesity Among Canadian School Youth

Comparison Between Urban and Rural Schools
  • Ronald C. PlotnikoffEmail author
  • Kim Bercovitz
  • Constantinos A. Loucaides



More information is needed to document the prevalence of health risk factors in youth. The purpose of this study is to compare the prevalence of physical inactivity, smoking and overweight/obesity among youth in urban and rural schools.


Data were obtained from a Student Physical Activity and Smoking Survey of 2,697 high school students in four urban schools in Ontario and four rural schools in Alberta. Prevalence of physical inactivity was assessed by examining compliance with Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living, and with daily energy expenditure classification values. Prevalence of smoking was assessed by examining current smoking status. Overweight and obesity prevalences were examined by comparing BMI values to the BMI index for age and sex percentiles set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Physical activity prevalence was found to be low in our study, with only 57.0% of youth achieving Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines, and with 26.0% classified as sedentary based on the daily energy expenditure classification values. A higher proportion of rural students reported “trying smoking” than urban school students (73.0% versus 64.4%, p<0.001). A significantly higher proportion of rural males were ‘overweight’ than urban males, and a significantly higher proportion of rural females were ‘obese’ in comparison to urban females.


Our findings add further support for an urgent need to promote physical activity among Canadian youth. Additionally, our results suggest that it is especially important to target rural students, particularly girls, for smoking prevention programs. Future studies are required to examine such rural and urban differences within provinces.



On manque d’information documentant la prévalence des facteurs de risque pour la santé chez les jeunes. Notre étude visait à comparer la prévalence de la sédentarité, du tabagisme et de l’embonpoint ou de l’obésité chez les jeunes dans les écoles de milieux urbains et ruraux.


Nos données provenaient d’une enquête sur l’activité physique et le tabagisme menée auprès de 2 697 élèves de niveau secondaire dans quatre écoles urbaines de l’Ontario et quatre écoles rurales de l’Alberta. Nous avons évalué la prévalence de la sédentarité selon les critères du Guide canadien d’activité physique pour une vie active saine et selon des valeurs de classification de la force dépensée quotidiennement. La prévalence du tabagisme a été obtenue d’après l’usage actuel du tabac. La prévalence de l’embonpoint et celle de l’obésité ont été obtenues en comparant les valeurs de l’indice de masse corporelle à l’IMC par centiles d’âge et de sexe mis au point par les CDC américains.


La prévalence de l’activité physique était faible dans notre étude; seulement 57 % des jeunes répondaient aux critères canadiens pour l’activité physique, et 26 % se classaient dans la catégorie des personnes sédentaires selon les valeurs de classification de la force dépensée quotidiennement. La proportion des élèves ayant dit avoir «essayé la cigarette» était supérieure en milieu rural (73 %, contre 64,4 % en milieu urbain, p<0,001). La proportion des garçons faisant de «l’embonpoint» dans les écoles en milieu rural était sensiblement plus élevée que chez les garçons en milieu urbain, et la proportion des filles «obèses» en milieu rural était sensiblement plus élevée que chez les filles en milieu urbain.


Nos constatations soulignent l’urgence de promouvoir l’activité physique chez les jeunes au Canada. De plus, nos résultats donnent à penser qu’il est très important de cibler les élèves en milieu rural, et encore plus les filles, dans les programmes de prévention de l’usage du tabac. Il faudrait mener d’autres études pour examiner les écarts entre les milieux urbain et rural à l’échelle des provinces.


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Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald C. Plotnikoff
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 5
    Email author
  • Kim Bercovitz
    • 4
  • Constantinos A. Loucaides
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Physical EducationUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Alberta Centre for Active LivingUniversity of AlbertaCanada
  3. 3.Centre for Health Promotion StudiesUniversity of AlbertaCanada
  4. 4.University of TorontoTorontoCanada
  5. 5.Centre for Health Promotion Studies, 5–10 University Extension CentreUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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