Free passes help kids get fit

How do you convince kids to get off the computer or couch and get more active? Give them free passes to municipal pools, rinks, gyms and recreation centres, which is what occurred in Kingston, Ontario, when school district officials copied an idea which reportedly originated in Delta, B.C. The Kingston Gets Active and Active2010 initiative was formally evaluated by Queen's University researchers from the school of kinesiology and health studies.

Katie Faloon, lead researcher of the evaluation, said the initiative, which sees every grade five student in Kingston and surrounding townships get a free, one-year pass, has been so successful that it will be extended to grade 10 students in the fall. The pass is a partnership among the Limestone District School Board, YMCA, and various communities.

Faloon, who now works for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said about 2,500 students in the Kingston area have been offered the passes and according to the study, nearly three-quarters of the grade five students have taken advantage of it to increase their physical activity levels.

The researchers found that the free pass program eliminated the usual barriers and excuses which kids usually cite about why they don't get more exercise: cost, lack of equipment, safety, homework and facility hours.

Julie Halfnight, a Delta municipal analyst, said the grade five pass program is used to varying degrees by about 80 per cent of kids who get the passes and is revenue neutral because kids bring with them their paying parents or older siblings.

"But this free pass program for kids is a great step forward because overweight kids present some of our greatest challenges and we need ideas like this which are like jump starts, not just incremental steps," said Hogg, who will speak Tuesday at the 19th International Union for Health Promotion and Education World conference.

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