Population studies (objective)


The Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute’s objective, population studies represents cross-sectional, nationally representative data. A cross-sectional study examines a population at a single point in time.  In the case of the CFLRI, some data is collected based on parental reports on behalf of their children and youth (or self-reported for the oldest youth) but physical activity is measured objectively through the use of pedometers to measure steps taken in a day. The objectively measured population studies represent a key component of the CFLRI’s Physical Activity and Sport Monitoring Program (PASMP). Participants are recruited to the study through telephone interviewing, then a package is distributed to participants with the pedometer for the participants to use and collect data. The objectively measured population study is called Canada’s Physical activity Levels Among Youth Study (or CANPLAY study).

The primary research goals of objectively measure, population studies are to understand: 1) physical activity levels of children and youth; 2) how associated factors influence participation; and 3) secular trends over time by comparing cross-sectional data at multiple periods over time.




What is it?

CANPLAY examines physical activity levels of children and youth, aged 5 to 19 objectively, using a pedometer to measure the number of steps taken daily. This landmark study provides provincial and territorial level data.

How was it developed?

Parental reports of children’s physical activity level can be challenging given the sporadic nature of activity levels and issues with recall. In response to the need for objective measurement, CANPLAY was designed in 2004.

How is data collected?

Between 2005 and 2016, approximately 3,000 to 10,000 children and youth per year have been randomly selected from across Canada and invited to participate. The study has employed the same physical activity measure and methods since 2005 and provides comparable estimates over time. A telephone-based survey is used for recruitment and includes a brief telephone survey among parents responding on behalf of their children, or else older youth reporting on behalf of themselves. During the telephone interview, interviewers directly capture data on key factors using the CATI (computer-assisted telephone interviews) system. If respondents consent to participation in the pedometer portion of the study, they are sent a pedometer package by mail. Participants are asked to wear a pedometer for 7 days and to log their steps daily. 

Information collected

CANPLAY collects steps taken each day over the course of a week (includes weekdays and weekend). Information has been collected about :

  • average daily steps
  • pursuits during the after-school time period
  • parent’s views about the availability of after school programs
  • sedentary activities after school


These data are critical to assist policy makers and other key decision makers to develop long term solutions and programs for a more active and healthier younger generation. Key benefits also include:

  • Ability to monitor trends over time
  • Representative of various groups (example sex, age, geographic, and socio-economic)
  • Use of standardized measures and methodology
  • Consistent methods producing irreplaceable trend data, allowing for assessment of impact of strategies/policies
  • Cost effective national and jurisdictional level data
  • One of the only tools to provide jurisdictional level data which can be compared across the country
  • Utilizes an ecological framework to understand relationships between various factors and physical activity or sport
  • Informing the national knowledge base
  • Credibility
  • Flexibility.