Fall in Implementation of Ontario Physical Activity Policy

November 18, 2022

Children have become less physically active in school despite teachers recognizing the importance of daily movement. A new study published in BMC Public Health reveals that the implementation of Ontario’s Daily Physical Activity (DPA) policy is in sharp decline. It attributes this development to time constraints and low confidence among teachers in integrating classroom DPA.

The paper is co-authored by education professor Barbara Fenesi, Lauren Martyn, Hannah Bigelow, and Deborah Chiodo from the Faculty of Education at Western University, Jeffrey Graham from Brock University, and Michelle Ogrodnik from the University of Waterloo.

These authors cite space, time, and inadequate training as reasons why teachers are not implementing DPA in their classrooms. They find that insufficient training has created a lack of confidence in teachers regarding its utilization. Nonetheless, the new policy requires that all elementary school children must receive at least 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each school day during instructional time.

Fensei et al. agree that “the DPA policy is conceptually a wonderful way to offer more physical activity to children during the school day.” However, they observe that “teachers are faced with innumerable classroom demands that make following the guideline a challenge.” As evidence of this development, it is noted that DPA has declined dramatically over the past five years. In 2015, about half of teachers followed the guideline in their classrooms. That number has now been cut to 23 per cent.

“It’s clear [that] the same barriers to DPA implementation identified in 2015 are alive and well in today’s classroom,” Fenesi et al. argue. “With an ever-increasing demand on teachers’ time and resources in other areas of teaching, it’s not surprising” that the implementation of DPA is falling. This decline mirrors the overall lack of physical activity in children. It is highlighted that between 1978-2004, the number of overweight and obese children between the ages of two and 17 increased from 15 to 26 per cent.

As a result, it is “projected that more than one in three Canadian adults will be obese by 2031.” Fensei et al. argue that there is “a dire need for early intervention to transform the trajectory of children’s health and wellbeing, and schools are an ideal setting for these early interventions to take place.” While the DPA implementation numbers are low, it is stressed that teachers want their students to be more physically active in their classrooms. In fact, teachers who implement DPA found that their students had better attention and learning in their classrooms.

Subsequently, Fenesi and her colleagues surveyed teachers to see what tools can help them better use the DPA guideline and reached the below recommendations:

  1. More training that emphasizes the evidence-based benefits of DPA for student learning and well-being.
  2. Increases in community partnerships that help teachers to implement DPA through volunteers, elders, sports organizations, and community activity initiatives.
  3. Greater accountability with different staff responsible for implementing, enforcing, and ensuring adequate resources to follow DPA.
  4. Improvement of strategies for school-wide implementation. For example, activities could occur during morning announcements, which could alleviate stress.


Fensei et al. conclude that “fidelity to the DPA policy in Ontario elementary schools is on the decline,” highlighting the importance of teacher recommendations to improve DPA implementation. Through their study, these authors hope “to bring a voice to Ontario teachers, to help identify the barriers to DPA implementation and provide recommendations for improved DPA success while creating happier, healthier children and communities.”