Physical Health & Well-Being

Promoting children’s physical health and well-being in the middle years lays the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Physical health outcomes are not uniquely controlled by genetics. They can also be influenced by external factors such as family relationships, connections with peers, and larger economic and social conditions Hertzman & Boyce, 2010. Children who feel healthy are more likely to be engaged in school, feel a connection to their teachers, perform better academically, and are less likely to be bullied or bully others Forrest et al., 2013. Being physically active also promotes children’s mental health Moeijes et al., 2018. Children benefit from guidance and opportunities that support the development of healthy habits – such as regular physical activity, quality sleep and healthy meals – that they can carry forward into adolescence and adulthood.

The MDI's Measures of Physical Health & Well-Being

General Health
General health is described by The World Health Organization as “not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” and, instead, involves knowing and recognizing one’s own state of physical well-being. Children in the middle years who feel healthy are more likely to be engaged in school, have a feeling of connectedness with their teachers, perform better academically, and are less likely to be bullied or bully others Forrest et al., 2013. Being physically active also promotes children’s mental health and social and emotional competence Moeijes et al., 2018. Children need a minimum of 60 minutes of energetic play each day, yet most Canadians are not getting this. Families, schools, and community all play crucial roles in helping young people stay physically active ParticipACTION, 2020.
Meals with Adults in Your Family
One factor that research has shown to support resilience during the middle years is eating meals together as a family. Frequently sharing meals together as a family is related to increased self-esteem and school success, and decreased chances of developing eating disorders, substance abuse, violent behaviour, and symptoms of depression Jones, 2018. In addition, families who enjoy meals together benefit from a greater sense of connection and better communication Middleton et al., 2020.
Frequency of Good Sleep
Canadian research recommends 9-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night for children ages 5 to 13 years old Chaput & Janssen, 2016. Children who do not get enough sleep are more likely to have difficulties in school, be involved in family disagreements, and display symptoms of depression Buxton et al., 2015; Matricciani et al., 2019.
Eating Breakfast
Eating breakfast improves children’s concentration and memory Adolphus et al., 2016. Consuming healthy fats as a part of breakfast, such as nuts or milk, may be particularly important for sustaining mental performance Zipp & Eissing, 2019.
Transportation To and From School
Using active transportation methods to get to and from school such as walking, cycling, and skateboarding, can help increase their physical activity Faulkner et al., 2009; Pabayo et al., 2012; Voss, 2018 and may result in improvements in physical health and sense of connectivity to the neighbourhood Buttazoni et al., 2019; Voss, 2018. However, children and their families do not always have a choice about how they get to and from school; factors such as perceived safety, the built environment (like sidewalks), and distance to school can affect children’s use of active forms of transportation Fulton et al., 2005; McDonald, 2007.
Help-Seeking for Emotional Well-Being
Most mental health issues start in adolescence and early adulthood Public Health Agency of Canada, 2006; Waddell et al., 2005. The help-seeking behaviours in which children engage during middle childhood are critical for their emotional well-being and their positive mental health. Seeking help for emotional support from appropriate and effective resources, such as adults at school, parents and family members, health professionals, and counsellors, can help promote positive mental health and resilience, and serve as a protective factor against mental illness Rickwood et al., 2005; Xu et al., 2018. Moreover, if children do not receive the support they need when experiencing distress, ensuing mental health problems could escalate and remain a substantial obstacle to promoting the well-being of children.

For more detailed information on the measures included in the Physical Health and Well-Being dimension of the MDI including a full list of questions that contribute to each measure, how each measure is scored, and how the results are visualized, please consult the MDI Companion Guide.

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