Community program offers fun, eyes sustainable benefits

Paul Mayne // Western News

Through a recent Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant, Geography professor Jason Gilliland, director of Western’s Human Environments Analysis Laboratory, will be tracking participants throughout the eight-month ACT-i-Pass program.

Be it golf, swimming, skating, basketball, soccer or dance, London’s Child and Youth Network wants children to get active – and they’re willing pay for it. ACT-i-Pass, offered to all Grade 5 students in London, allows for free access to indoor and outdoor sporting activities throughout the city for the entire school year.

“It’s all about promoting health and wellness,” said Jason Gilliland, director of Western’s Human Environments Analysis Laboratory. “Only about 5 per cent of kids are physically active enough for optimal growth and development. We know this is linked to problems like obesity. Studies have shown kids who are more physically active are less at risk for cardiovascular illnesses. There’s also a correlation with better school achievement, mental health and overall wellness – a whole host of benefits.”

The ACT-i-Pass program is partnering with the YMCA of London, Boys & Girls Club of London, City of London Parks & Recreation and Spectrum programs.

From an evaluation perspective, Gilliland added, this is a large program and, to determine its success, he’ll need to go beyond simple anecdotes. Through a recent Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grant, the Geography professor will be tracking participants throughout the eight-month program, as well as up to a full year, following its completion.

“We want to find if kids are not only more physically active with the pass, but if they are still maintaining higher physical activity after the program concludes,” he said.

Gilliland understands other factors can play a part in physical activity. When he was in high school, he lived far outside the city. As both his parents worked night shifts, he couldn’t get rides into town for sports. Gradually, his participation waned.

“Does geography matter? Is that barrier still too big? And we can then see if it might be lack of transportation. Do bus routes play a role?”

Beyond these geographic concerns, other factors play a role in the program’s success or failure, including economic and informational.

“You could have a pool right next to you, but if it’s too expensive, then you can’t use it,” Gilliland said. “ACT-i-Pass takes away that barrier, and the informational barrier, because we are providing a lot of info about programs available in neighbourhoods throughout the city.”

The research team will also isolate individual differentiating levels according to age, sex, socio-economic status and even cultural and family differences.

“We want to isolate for whom does it work the most, or doesn’t work, and then, alter the program as needed,” he said. “We’ll even be studying the program’s implementation. Was it something about how the program was rolled out that affected it?

“This is such a critical issue (youth inactivity), so if we can find out what information we need to adapt the programs and make them even more successful, we could roll it out with other age groups, and even in other cities. My goal is all of Ontario, and I think it’s an achievable goal in a few years.”