10/20/2014 02:15 EDT | Updated 12/20/2014 05:59 EST

'Outdoor deficit disorder' fuelling obesity crisis, expert says

Canada’s childhood obesity crisis is being fuelled, in part, by an “outdoor deficit disorder,” according to an exercise physiologist from the University of Manitoba.

Dean Kriellaars spoke at a physical literacy conference in Fredericton on Friday and Saturday about the importance of getting children active and developing basic movement skills.

Kriellaars said physical literacy is a new term that describes age-old activities, such as running, skipping, hopping and jumping.

He said these are important skills that are integral to learn so kids can be active throughout their lives.

“If you don’t got movement vocabulary, you won’t be active,” Kriellaars told Information Morning Fredericton.

“So we are focusing on this component that is really setting up the child to be prepared to go through a journey in life as opposed to just saying, ‘Let’s get active, let’s get active,’ which we has been our message for the past 45 years.”

The New Brunswick Physical Literacy Summit brought together coaches, educators and other interested groups together to discuss innovative ways to teach children the fundamental movement skills that would allow them to become more active.

Kriellaars said he’s been involved in different studies, including one that surveyed 7,000 children in Ontario, that investigated the impact of teaching basic movement skills earlier to children.

“If you use this sort of physical literacy approach of developing movement vocabulary, you get the benefits of better self-esteem, better physical activity levels, better fitness, better confidence and a host of different benefits,” he said.

The failure to get people active is creating an obesity epidemic.

New Brunswick is routinely singled out as one of the provinces with the highest obesity levels in Canada.

There have been recent studies that have shown 63 per cent of adult New Brunswickers and up to 36 per cent of the province’s children are overweight or obese.

Kriellaars said governments are spending billions on health care and promotion and by comparison a “paltry” amount is being spent on prevention.

He said steps need to be taken to get children outside moving and in “free play” instead of blocks of scheduled events.

The university professor also said it’s critical to get people away from their screens.

“Our children suffer from outdoor deficit disorder now and physical inactivity because they are sitting in front of their iPhones at all times,” he said.