Assessing Support for Policy Actions With Co-Benefits for Climate Change and Physical Activity in Canada

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Matthew J. Fagan School of Kinesiology, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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Leigh M. Vanderloo ParticipACTION, Toronto, ON, Canada
School of Occupational Therapy, Western University, London, ON, Canada

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Ananya Banerjee Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada

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Leah J. Ferguson College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada

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Eun-Young Lee School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada

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Norman O’Reilly Graduate School of Business, The University of Maine, Orono, ME, USA

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Ryan E. Rhodes Behavioural Medicine Laboratory, School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada

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John C. Spence Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada

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Mark S. Tremblay Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada

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Guy Faulkner School of Kinesiology, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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Open access

Background: Calls to action addressing the interconnections between physical (in)activity and the climate crisis are increasing. The current study aimed to investigate public support for policy actions that potentially have co-benefits for physical activity promotion and climate change mitigation. Methods: In 2023, a survey through the Angus Reid Forum was completed by 2507 adults living in Canada. Binary logistic regressions were conducted. Separate models were created to reflect support or opposition to the 8 included policy items. Several covariates were included in the models including age, gender, political orientation, physical activity levels, income, urbanicity climate anxiety, and attitudes surrounding physical activity and climate change. The data were weighted to reflect the gender, age, and regional composition of the country. Results: Most individuals living in Canada strongly or moderately supported all actions (ranging from 71% to 85%). Meeting the physical activity guidelines, higher self-reported income, and scoring high on personal experience of climate change were associated with higher odds of supporting the policy actions related to climate actions. Conclusions: Most adults living in Canada support policies that align with the recommended policy actions related to physical activity and climate change. National campaigns enhancing awareness and understanding of the bidirectional relationship between physical activity and climate change are warranted, and these should consider the consistent demographic differences (eg, gender, age, and political orientation) seen in public support for physical activity-related policies.

An urgent need exists to address climate change.1,2 The next decade is crucial in efforts to limit the temperature increase to ≤1.5° Celsius.1 Climate change has far-reaching impacts on various social and environmental determinants of health, and is projected to contribute globally to approximately 250,000 additional deaths annually between 2030 and 2050.2,3 Immediate action is required to mitigate the consequences of climate change and to veer the human population collectively off the “highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”4

Concurrently problematic is the public health challenge of physical inactivity. The repercussions of physical inactivity encompass both physical health such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.5,6 Global estimates suggest that 1.4 billion adults (27.5% of the world’s adult population) do not meet recommended levels of physical activity, and this estimate has remained stable between 2001 and 2016.7 Prevalence of physical inactivity differs by region and country. In Canada, for example, 51% of adults (18–79 y) do not meet the recommended levels of 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week.8 Physical inactivity prevalence also tends to be high in the countries that are more culpable to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions (based on per capita CO2 emissions), such as Canada.911 One potential explanation for this may be the impact of a neoliberal (capitalist) ideology of these countries that prioritizes wealth over health.9

Calls to action addressing the interconnections between physical (in)activity and the climate crisis are increasing with an identified need to promote physical activity in ways that, at the very least, “cause no harm” to the planet and ideally mitigate the effects of climate change12 as well as supporting individuals to adapt to climate change.12,13 Salvo and colleagues delineate the synergies between physical activity promotion strategies outlined in the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity (GAPPA)14 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.15 Regarding climate action (sustainable development goal 13), simulations of the effects of large-scale physical activity promotion using agent-based modeling found that climate mitigation occurred through increases in active transport and recreational physical activity.15 Given the considerable potential for alignment between physical activity promotion and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, a strategic paradigm shift in physical activity research, policy and practice is needed.16,17

This close alignment is particularly pertinent to policy influencers in considering population-level levers that may have co-benefits for physical activity and mitigating climate change. Support for policy action impacts the ability to implement new policy actions.18,19 Public resistance to new policy(ies) may cause problems with implementation and adherence, and ultimately result in withdrawal from consideration.20 Conversely, as the constituents of elected policy influencers, public support for different policy interventions may be a prerequisite for policymakers in developing and implementing those policies.21,22 Though research has examined population perceptions of physical activity-related policies,2123 to our knowledge, no studies have directly explored support for a broad range of policies with co-benefits for physical activity and climate change.

The recent Canadian National Active Transportation Survey24 examined public support for active transportation (AT) policies among a representative sample of adults living in Canada. Although most policy actions to promote AT were supported, variation in support existed by the type of policy actions and by respondent demographics. As others have found,22,25 more support was reported for less intrusive policies targeting environmental planning and fiscal measures that incentivized AT with less support for policies aimed at regulation or coercive fiscal measures. In addition, the level of support for AT policies was higher among women, younger respondents, and individuals who engaged in AT. These findings reinforce that while the likelihood that public support will not be uniform, it may vary in predictable ways at a population level.

With greater exposure to mediated reports and personal experience of climate change, it would not be unexpected that individuals worry about the current state of the health of the planet. This climate anxiety may be one unexplored correlate of public support for policy actions. Climate change anxiety is defined as “anxiety or worry about climate change and its effects.”26 It may include cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses, for example, persistent worries, psychological distress, or sleep difficulties related to long-term consequences of climate change and may result in functional impairment when concerns about climate change interfere with an individual’s ability to engage fully in work, school, or relationships.27 Speculatively, climate change anxiety, or eco-anxiety, may be adaptive in terms of being associated with perceptions of agency in addressing climate changes28 and, by extension, increased support for policies that address climate change.

Building on existing work conducted in Canada, the current study aimed to investigate public support for policy actions that potentially have co-benefits for physical activity promotion and climate change mitigation. In line with existing literature, our team hypothesized there would be high support for the selected policy actions. A secondary objective was to identify the correlates of support for policy actions, hypothesizing that higher climate change anxiety would be associated with greater support for those actions. Understanding public support for progressive policy actions might provide the foundation for the consideration and implementation of greater policy and legislative innovation addressing the intersections of physical inactivity and climate change in Canada.

Methods

Sample and Recruitment

ParticipACTION, a Canadian nonprofit organization promoting physical activity (www.participaction.com), commissioned a survey in 2023 as part of its ongoing public relations and advocacy work. A total sample of 2507 participants was recruited from a representative sample of panelists (adults ≥18 y) by leveraging an online panel from a Canadian survey firm (Angus Reid Forum, n > 100,000 adults) who have previously consented to participate in research.21 This panel is comprised of individuals who voluntarily sign up to be contacted if their demographics align with a given study’s inclusion criteria. The panel is considered comparable with the Canadian census in terms of age, sex, region, income, employment, and language spoken. The response rate from this panel was ∼25% for the study. The study received ethical approval for secondary data analysis from the University of British Columbia ethics review board (#H23-00510).

Data Collection Procedures

Data collection was conducted online in both French and English languages throughout Canada. The survey was made available through a unique link on February 27, 2023, and remained accessible for 7 days. A reminder email was sent 2 days before the survey closed. Completing the survey required approximately 15 minutes of participants’ time. The complete survey in English is provided in Supplementary Material (available online). Subsequently, all collected data underwent a thorough cleaning process, ensuring deidentification, and were organized into an SPSS (version 29.0) file using IBM software facilitated through Angus Reid.

Measures

Policy Action Support

The World Health Organization GAPPA 2018–2030 identifies 4 strategic objectives (active societies, active environments, active people, and active systems) and 20 specific policy actions.29 Eight policy actions that were deemed likely to have potential co-benefits for physical activity and mitigating climate change were selected (see Table 1) based on a consensus by the manuscript authors. Policy actions were modified to make links to climate change salient. For example, policy action 1.2 in GAPPA recommends conducting “national and community-based campaigns to enhance awareness and understanding of, and appreciation for, the social, economic, and environmental co-benefits of physical activity.” This was modified to “Conduct national and community-based campaigns to enhance awareness and understanding of the environmental co-benefits of physical activity” in the current survey. The items were rated on a 7-point scale from strongly support to strongly oppose. For analysis, a dichotomous variable was computed to reflect support and opposition with individuals selecting strongly support, moderately support or slightly support being coded collectively as support and neutral, slightly oppose, moderately oppose, and strongly oppose being coded as oppose.

Table 1

Selected Policy Actions of the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018–2030 Relevant to Climate Action

Strategic objectivesPolicy actions related to climate action
Create active societies1.2 Conduct national and community-based campaigns to enhance awareness and understanding of the environmental co-benefits of physical activity
1.4 Provide training to health professionals regarding the environmental benefits of walking and cycling and guidance regarding activities that come with a comparably low carbon footprint
Create active environments2.1 Governments should develop highly connected mixed-land-use neighborhoods (residential, commercial, and recreational uses are in close proximity to one another) to enable more walking and active travel
2.2 Governments should create infrastructures (eg, designated bike paths) to increase active transport by walking and cycling
2.3 Governments should take more action to improve the personal safety of pedestrians, cyclists and people engaged in other forms of mobility involving the use of wheels (including wheelchairs)
2.4 Governments should strengthen access to good-quality public and green open spaces, recreational spaces and sports facilities for all people
Create active people3.3 Governments should increase provision of, and opportunities for, more physical activity programs and promotion in parks and other natural environments
Create active systems4.5 Governments should increase funding to ensure we are tackling physical inactivity and climate change

Attitudes Toward Physical Activity and Climate Change

Two items were used to assess attitudes of the co-benefits of physical activity and climate change. The items asked individuals to indicate if they agree or disagree with the following statements: (1) Climate change will be a barrier for many people in Canada to be physically active and (2) helping people in Canada to be more physically active will slow down climate change. The items were scored on a 7-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. For the purposes of analysis, a dichotomous variable of agree (strongly agree, moderately agree, slightly agree) or disagree (strongly disagree, moderately disagree, slightly disagree and not sure) was computed.

Climate Change Anxiety

Four items were used to assess climate anxiety based on previous surveillance systems in Canada.30 The 4 items were selected to reflect the 4 subscales of climate anxiety found in the Climate Change Anxiety Scale (CAS; ie, cognitive and emotional impairment, functional impairment, personal experience of climate change, and behavioral engagement).27 Item 1 assessed cognitive and emotional impairment by asking “Thinking about climate change makes it difficult for me to sleep.” Item 2 assessed functional impairment by asking “My concerns about climate change interfere with my ability to get work done.” Item 3 assessed personal experience of climate change by asking “I have noticed a change in a place that is important to me due to climate change.” Item 4 assessed behavioral engagement by asking “I believe I can do something to help address the problem of climate change.” All items were on a 5-point Likert scale (1–never, 2–rarely, 3–sometimes, 4–often, 5–almost always), with higher scores for emotional or functional impairment and personal experience reflecting greater climate anxiety, and lower scores on behavioral engagement reflecting higher climate anxiety.

Physical Activity

A single item was used to assess physical activity participation.31,32 Demonstrating adequate reliability and validity for overall physical activity levels,31 it asked, “In the past week, on how many days have you done a total of 30 minutes or more of physical activity, which was enough to raise your breathing rate? This may include sport, traditional games, exercise, and brisk walking or cycling for recreation or to get to and from places, but should not include housework or physical activity that may be part of your job.” The item was then scored on a 0- to 7-day scale. Individuals reporting 5 or more days were coded as meeting physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week.31

Covariates

Several demographic variables were collected and used for covariates in our analysis. Respondents reported gender (woman, man); age (18–24, 25–44, 45–64, and 65+ y); dwelling (urban, semiurban, rural); household income (<$35,000, $35,000–$75,000, $75,000–$125,000, >$125,000); and political orientation (liberal, centre, conservative, and I don’t know). The selection of covariates were informed by previous work.21,25

Statistical Analyses

Descriptives and frequencies were calculated. All analyses were run using R (version 4.2.1). Binary logistic regression models were built using the stats library and the glm function. Before model building, several assumptions were checked or tested and met. These assumptions included (1) the dependent variable being binary, (2) the data are independent and not linked, (3) no multicollinearity between predictor variables (assessed through Generalized Variance Inflation Scores [GVIF] <5), and (4) independent continuous variables are linearly correlated to the log odds of the dependent variable (assessed through the Box Tidwell Test). Finally, screening for missing data was completed, and no missing data were reported. Eight separate models were created to reflect support or opposition to the 8 included policy items. Attitudes surrounding physical activity and climate change were also included in the models. To ensure that findings were representative of the Canadian population, the data were weighted to reflect the gender, age, and regional composition of the country.

Results

The limited sample of participants who identified as nonbinary, Two-Spirit, or did not know their gender (<2.5% total) were excluded from the model building process. The final sample for analysis (n = 2474) included 59% women, 24% with a household income of $75,000 to 125,000, 33% were between 25 and 44 years old, 36% liberal leaning politically, and 50% lived in an urban setting. In total, 45% of participants agreed that climate change will be a barrier for many Canadians to be physically active, and 51% agreed helping people in Canada to be more physically active will slow down climate change. In terms of support for the 8 policy actions, the majority of Canadians strongly or moderately supported all actions. The lowest support was 71% (Governments should increase funding to ensure we are tackling physical inactivity and climate change), and the highest support was 84% (Governments should strengthen access to good-quality public and green open space). Figure 1 presents a further breakdown of the support for policy items. In terms of climate anxiety, the means for cognitive and emotional impairment was 1.92 (SD = 1.16), and for functional impairment, 1.84 (SD = 1.13) suggesting impairment caused by climate change was “rare” among this sample. Personal experience of climate change was higher with a mean of 2.51 (SD = 1.25), and behavioral engagement with a mean of 3.03 (SD = 1.17) suggesting that, on average, individuals sometimes believe they can do something to help address the problem of climate change (see Table 2 for descriptive results).

Figure 1
Figure 1

—Global Action Plan on Physical Activity policy support.

Citation: Journal of Physical Activity and Health 21, 3; 10.1123/jpah.2023-0617

Table 2

Demographic and Descriptive Statistics (n = 2474)

Characteristics
Gender
 Woman1468 (59%)
 Man1006 (41%)
Income (Canadian dollars)
 <$35,000514 (21%)
 $35,000 to <$75,000741 (30%)
 $75,000 to <$125,000586 (24%)
 >$125,00404 (16%)
 Don’t know/prefer not to say229 (9.3%)
Age range, y
 18–24294 (12%)
 25–44828 (33%)
 45–64804 (32%)
 65+548 (22%)
Dwelling setting
 I live in an urban setting1225 (50%)
 I live in a suburban setting841 (34%)
 I live in a rural setting408 (16%)
Met the physical activity guidelines
 No1798 (73%)
 Yes676 (27%)
Political spectrum
 Liberal903 (36%)
 Centre764 (31%)
 Conservative489 (20%)
 Don’t know318 (13%)
Climate change will be a barrier for many Canadians to be physically active
 Agree1103 (45%)
 Disagree1371 (55%)
Physical activity will slow climate change
 Agree1273 (51%)
 Disagree1201 (49%)
Conduct national and community-based campaigns to enhance awareness of the environmental co-benefit
 Support1781 (72%)
 Oppose693 (28%)
Provide training to health professionals regarding the environmental benefits of walking and cycle
 Support1768 (71%)
 Oppose706 (29%)
Governments should develop highly connected mixed-land-use neighborhoods
 Support1878 (76%)
 Oppose596 (24%)
Governments should create infrastructures (eg, designated bike paths) to increase active transportation
 Support1909 (77%)
 Oppose565 (23%)
Governments should take more action to improve the personal safety of pedestrians and cyclists
 Support1967 (80%)
 Oppose507 (20%)
Governments should strengthen access to good-quality public and green open spaces
 Support2074 (84%)
 Oppose400 (16%)
Governments should increase provision of, and opportunities for, more physical activity program
 Support1989 (80%)
 Oppose485 (20%)
Governments should increase funding to ensure we are tackling physical inactivity and climate change
 Support1762 (71%)
 Oppose712 (29%)
Climate anxiety: Cognitive and emotional impairment (range 1 “Never” to 5 “Almost always”)1.92 (1.16)
Climate anxiety: Functional impairment (range 1 “Never” to 5 “Almost always”)1.84 (1.13)
Climate anxiety: Personal experience (range 1 “Never” to 5 “Almost always”)2.51 (1.25)
Climate anxiety: Behavioral engagement (range 1 “Never” to 5 “Almost always”)3.03 (1.17)

Note: The values are presented as n (%) or mean (SD).

Regression Results

Models indicated similar results when considering the correlates of support for the policy actions. Meeting the physical activity guidelines (6/8 models), higher self-reported income (6/8 models), and scoring high on personal experience of climate change (8/8 models) were associated with higher odds of supporting the policy actions related to climate actions (see Table 3). Support for the policy actions was lower among men (7/8 models), younger age (8/8 models), individuals living in rural settings (5/8 models), identifying as centre (7/8 models) or conservative (8/8 models) on the political spectrum, and those disagreeing with climate change being a barrier for physical activity (8/8 models) or that physical activity promotion can slow climate change (8/8 models). Scoring high on behavioral engagement (8/8 models), cognitive and emotional impairment (6/8 models), or functional impairment (7/8 models) was associated with higher odds of not supporting the physical activity policy actions.

Table 3

Correlates of Global Action Plan on Physical Activity Policy Support

CorrelatesSelected policy actions of the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018–2030 relevant to climate action
1.21.42.12.22.32.43.34.5
Campaigns to enhance awarenessTraining to health professionalsDevelop connected mixed land use for active travelInfrastructure to increase active travelImprove safety for active travelImprove access to green open spaceIncrease opportunities for physical activity programsIncrease funding for physical activity and climate change
OR (95% CI)OR (95% CI)OR (95% CI)OR (95% CI)OR (95% CI)OR (95% CI)OR (95% CI)OR (95% CI)
Gender
 WomanREF
 Man1.09 (1.04–1.14)1.07 (1.02–1.12)0.98 (0.94–1.03)1.12 (1.07–1.17)1.54 (1.46–1.62)1.31 (1.24–1.38)1.44 (1.37–1.51)1.11 (1.06–1.16)
Age range
 18–24REF
 25–440.77 (0.71–0.83)0.84 (0.78–0.91)0.77 (0.71–0.84)0.60 (0.55–0.65)0.85 (0.78–0.93)0.68 (0.62–0.74)0.89 (0.81–0.97)0.61 (0.56–0.66)
 45–640.53 (0.49–0.58)0.84 (0.78–0.92)0.75 (0.69–0.82)0.59 (0.54–0.64)0.78 (0.71–0.85)0.65 (0.59–0.71)0.81 (0.74–0.89)0.68 (0.62–0.74)
 65+0.48 (0.44–0.53)0.64 (0.59–0.70)0.68 (0.62–0.75)0.59 (0.54–0.64)0.55 (0.50–0.61)0.48 (0.43–0.53)0.82 (0.74–0.90)0.83 (0.76–0.91)
Income
 <$35,000REF
 $35,000 to <$75,0000.92 (0.86–0.98)0.95 (0.89–1.01)1.09 (1.02–1.16)0.97 (0.91–1.03)0.91 (0.85–0.98)0.97 (0.90–1.04)0.89 (0.83–0.95)0.85 (0.80–0.91)
 $75,000 to <$125,0000.86 (0.80–0.92)0.75 (0.70–0.80)0.97 (0.90–1.04)1.01 (0.94–1.08)0.81 (0.75–0.87)0.84 (0.78–0.91)0.84 (0.78–0.90)0.86 (0.80–0.92)
 >$125,0000.85 (0.79–0.92)0.76 (0.71–0.82)1.09 (1.01–1.18)0.96 (0.89–1.04)0.81 (0.75–0.88)0.86 (0.78–0.93)0.88 (0.81–0.95)0.90 (0.83–0.97)
 Don’t know/prefer not to say1.50 (1.38–1.63)1.39 (1.28–1.50)1.55 (1.42–1.69)1.39 (1.28–1.51)1.42 (1.30–1.55)1.27 (1.16–1.40)1.63 (1.50–1.78)1.36 (1.25–1.48)
Dwelling setting
 I live in an urban settingREF
 I live in a suburban setting1.03 (0.98–1.08)0.92 (0.87–0.96)1.02 (0.97–1.07)1.03 (0.98–1.08)0.98 (0.93–1.04)1.00 (0.94–1.06)0.95 (0.90–1.00)0.91 (0.87–0.96)
 I live in a rural setting1.21 (1.14–1.29)0.97 (0.91–1.03)1.19 (1.12–1.27)1.18 (1.11–1.26)1.11 (1.04–1.19)1.28 (1.19–1.37)0.98 (0.92–1.05)0.99 (0.93–1.05)
Political spectrum
 LiberalREF
 Centre1.37 (1.29–1.45)0.97 (0.92–1.03)1.77 (1.66–1.88)1.53 (1.44–1.63)1.48 (1.39–1.58)1.34 (1.25–1.44)1.43 (1.34–1.52)1.30 (1.22–1.37)
 Conservative2.05 (1.92–2.18)1.53 (1.44–1.62)2.07 (1.94–2.21)1.90 (1.78–2.03)1.96 (1.83–2.10)1.29 (1.20–1.39)1.31 (1.22–1.40)2.01 (1.89–2.14)
 Don’t know1.77 (1.64–1.91)1.17 (1.09–1.26)2.07 (1.92–2.24)1.77 (1.64–1.91)1.98 (1.83–2.15)1.66 (1.52–1.81)1.89 (1.75–2.05)1.55 (1.44–1.67)
Met the physical activity guidelines
 NoREF
 Yes0.85 (0.81–0.89)0.88 (0.84–0.92)0.91 (0.86–0.96)0.93 (0.88–0.98)0.76 (0.72–0.80)1.05 (0.99–1.11)0.99 (0.94–1.05)0.86 (0.82–0.91)
Climate change will be a barrier for many Canadians to be physically active
 AgreeREF
 Disagree1.51 (1.43–1.59)1.40 (1.33–1.48)1.76 (1.66–1.87)1.56 (1.47–1.66)2.06 (1.93–2.19)1.67 (1.56–1.80)1.45 (1.36–1.55)1.66 (1.57–1.76)
Physical activity will slow climate change
 AgreeREF
 Disagree3.05 (2.90–3.21)2.84 (2.71–2.99)2.55 (2.42–2.69)2.83 (2.68–2.99)2.54 (2.40–2.69)2.09 (1.97–2.23)2.69 (2.54–2.85)2.78 (2.64–2.92)
Climate anxiety: cognitive and emotional impairment1.17 (1.13–1.21)0.99 (0.96–1.02)1.17 (1.13–1.21)1.25 (1.22–1.30)1.20 (1.16–1.24)1.27 (1.23–1.32)1.10 (1.06–1.14)1.00 (0.97–1.03)
Climate anxiety: functional impairment1.04 (1.01–1.08)0.99 (0.96–1.03)1.14 (1.10–1.17)1.19 (1.16–1.23)1.20 (1.16–1.25)1.39 (1.34–1.45)1.17 (1.13–1.22)1.35 (1.31–1.39)
Climate anxiety: personal experience0.83 (0.81–0.85)0.92 (0.89–0.94)0.83 (0.81–0.85)0.82 (0.80–0.84)0.87 (0.85–0.90)0.74 (0.72–0.76)0.80 (0.77–0.82)0.76 (0.74–0.78)
Climate anxiety: behavioral engagement1.49 (1.46–1.53)1.38 (1.35–1.41)1.37 (1.34–1.40)1.39 (1.36–1.42)1.45 (1.41–1.49)1.45 (1.41–1.49)1.34 (1.30–1.37)1.53 (1.49–1.56)

Abbreviations: CI, confidence Interval; OR, odds ratio; REF, referent group. Note: Bolded values denote statistical significance (P < .05).

Discussion

In line with our first hypothesis, the findings provide evidence of strong public support for policies addressing co-benefits of physical activity and climate change in a large representative sample of Canadians. This is consistent with existing research examining support for physical activity-related policies in general.24,25 All policy items received high levels of support, ranging from 71% to 84% among respondents. Notably, the policy action with the lowest support was “increasing funding to tackle physical activity and climate change,” which may reflect uncertainty as to the personal and social implications of budgetary reallocations. Positive findings regarding policy support are perhaps tempered by the finding that most participants did not agree with the notion that climate change would hinder their future physical activity, and the sample was balanced in agreeing whether physical activity promotion efforts would slow down climate change. While the focus of policy action in this study was on climate change mitigation rather than adaptations and resilience to climate change, evidence demonstrates a consistent negative effect of climate change on physical activity participation.33 In line with policy action 1.2 of GAPPA, national and community-based campaigns enhancing awareness and understanding of the bidirectional relationship between physical activity and climate change are warranted. These could complement the advocacy of public health professionals in encouraging policy influencers to take action given the high public support for policy action.22

Despite the overall high levels of support, it is worthwhile exploring the approximately 30% of individuals in Canada who do not support the 8 policy actions. Understanding the factors that predict lower levels of support may be essential in tailoring future health communications and policy advocacy relevant to both physical activity promotion and climate action. Our findings indicate that demographic factors and climate change anxiety of the participants were significant correlates of supporting climate action in nearly all models. Specifically, older age, identifying as a woman, and having a higher self-reported income were all associated with higher support for the policy actions. The associations of gender and age with support are consistent with previous research in that being women and older age were positively associated with higher support for physical activity25 and obesity prevention policies.34,35 In terms of age, individuals reflect more with age on the community collective rather than themselves as individuals, which may explain commonly reported positive associations between age and beliefs about the consequences of climate change.36 In the context of support for proenvironmental action, support is higher among individuals with higher socioeconomic status when their climate change beliefs are high.37

With respect to other demographic factors, political orientation was found to have a consistent and strong association with policy support. Individuals identifying as center or conservative-leaning were more likely to oppose the policies than those identifying as liberal. This finding is perhaps unsurprising as the ideology or principles surrounding conservatives are more skeptical of social issues including climate science and less supportive of climate science solutions that emphasize government intervention.38,39 In addition, previous research shows that political orientation is associated with support for healthy public policy with generally more conservative orientations being less supportive of such policies.22,24,25,40 This suggests that political orientation influences policy support across different domains. Given the influence of political orientation on policy endorsement, further exploratory work should be conducted to identify effective communication strategies that engage all individuals with differing political orientations. Understanding the underlying factors that shape their perspectives and tailoring messaging and communication approaches could foster unified support for policies promoting the co-benefits of physical activity and climate change.

Findings were mixed regarding our second hypothesis that higher climate change anxiety would be associated with greater support for policy actions. Counter-intuitively, higher self-reported cognitive and emotional impairment, and functional impairment predicted lower support levels for many policies. As some speculate regarding the psychology of climate change, it may be that for some, denial and apathy act as a defense against climate anxiety,41 and this could be reflected in lower support for the policy actions. The cognitive and functional impairment subscales of this measure are considered the true “climate change anxiety” response by its developers.41 It is important to note that overall levels of impairment were low in this Canadian sample with most not reporting any experience of significant emotional or functional impairment due to climate change. This may have been different if the study was conducted among predominantly younger age groups, particularly children, adolescents, and young adults. It is known that eco-anxiety is more normal and prevalent among young people as they will be the ones who will experience the “consequences.” Furthermore, eco-anxiety among young people is augmented with existing economic challenges,42 political polarization,43 and racialized violence44 that have been further accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic.45,46 These points should be considered when interpreting the results of the current study.

Findings were more intuitive regarding the remaining subscales. Those with more personal experience of the effects of climate change were more likely to support the policy actions. This is consistent with previous work, which surveyed 13,014 participants from 25 different countries and found that personal experience with climate change predicted endorsement of specific mitigation actions and willingness to engage in mitigation actions.47 Perhaps highlighting the proximity and damaging impacts of climate change for a specific area may help foster support for policy change.48 In addition, individuals who reported less personal agency in addressing climate change were more likely to support policy actions. It may be that individuals who report low levels of personal agency feel they cannot solve the climate crisis without “top-down” policy approaches. It has been suggested that individualistic approaches to target climate change are suboptimal and more multifactorial approaches are needed.49 Understanding the best way to create messaging surrounding the need for interdisciplinary and multisectoral interventions that address the complexity of climate change may increase support for individuals with high personal agency in addressing this issue.

Meeting physical activity guidelines was associated with greater support for climate action as has been reported before24,25 with analogous findings in the context of support for AT policies being higher among individuals who engaged in active travel.24 Regular participation in physical activity may make more salient the interrelationships between climate change and physical activity behavior and predispose support for related policies. This may also be the case when considering differences by urbanicity and lower support for some policy actions for individuals living in rural areas. As policy actions might be more directed at addressing urban mobility and increasing access to green space, then such actions may be less salient for individuals and communities beyond urban centers. Taken together, these demographic differences in policy support underline the need for considered and tailored communications that appeal and engage a broad spectrum of the population in Canada.

Our work has several strengths that should be acknowledged. For example, the large sample (n = 2474) and utilization of a weighting factor contributed to its representativeness. In addition, this is the first study to map GAPPA actions as policies and determine their support, filling an important gap in the literature. Finally, our analysis controls for several covariates known to be associated with policy support in Canada.25 However, this study is not without its limitations. First, the cross-sectional nature of this study limits the ability to infer causality. Second, we only used one item from each of the original 4 subscales of the validated CAS.27 In addition, debate remains regarding the nature of the climate change anxiety construct50 while the factor structure of the original CAS has been questioned.51 Future work should not only reassess the factor structure of the CAS but attempt to validate a short version. Finally, although high support existed for the identified policy actions, the policy actions did not convey the potential level of intrusiveness inherent in their potential implementation. It is likely, for example, that policies disincentivizing driving are needed to achieve the best overall outcomes for physical activity and mitigating climate change.15 These could include increased fuel taxes, congestion pricing, and higher parking costs. A minority of people in Canada supported policies that facilitate active travel policies using disincentives and restriction of choices.24 Future research will benefit from exploring public support for operationalized and feasible policy approaches that address each of the GAPPA policy actions in the Canadian context.

Conclusion

Most adults living in Canada support policies that align with the GAPPA policy actions related to physical activity and climate change. National campaigns enhancing awareness and understanding of the bidirectional relationship between physical activity and climate change are warranted and these should consider the consistent demographic differences (eg, gender, age, and political orientation) seen in public support for physical activity-related policies. Future work should attempt to explore how to harness this broad base of support in advocating for policy actions that are likely to carry some political cost.15

Acknowledgments

Fagan was supported by a Mitacs Accelerate award. This funding body had no role in the design of the study and collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, and in writing the manuscript.

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Supplementary Materials

  • Collapse
  • Expand
  • Figure 1

    —Global Action Plan on Physical Activity policy support.

  • 1.

    Rogelj J, Shindell D, Jiang K, et al. Chapter 2: Mitigation pathways compatible with 1.5 C in the context of sustainable development. In: Masson-Delmotte V, Zhai P, Pörtner H-O, et al. Eds, Global Warming of 1.5 C an IPCC Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5 C above Pre-Industrial Levels and Related Global Greenhouse Gas Emission Pathways, in the Context of Strengthening the Global Response to the Threat of Climate Change. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; 2018. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 2.

    The World Health Organization. A framework for the quantification and economic valuation of health outcomes originating from health and non-health climate change mitigation and adaptation action. Published 2023. Accessed June 27, 2023. https://iris.who.int/bitstream/handle/10665/367385/9789240057906-eng.pdf?sequence=1

    • Search Google Scholar
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  • 3.

    World Health Organization. Climate change and health: fact sheet. Published 2021. Accessed June 28, 2023. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 4.

    United Nations. Secretary general’s remarks high level opening of COP-27. Published 2022. Accessed September 13, 2023. https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/speeches/2022-11-07/secretary-generals-remarks-high-level-opening-of-cop27

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 5.

    De Rooij BH, Van Der Berg JD, Van Der Kallen CJH, et al. Physical activity and sedentary behavior in metabolically healthy versus unhealthy obese and non-obese individuals—the Maastricht study. PLoS One. 2016;11(5):e0154358. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 6.

    Robertson R, Robertson A, Jepson R, Maxwell M. Walking for depression or depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ment Health Phys Act. 2012;5(1):6675. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 7.

    Guthold R, Stevens GA, Riley LM, Bull FC. Worldwide trends in insufficient physical activity from 2001 to 2016: a pooled analysis of 358 population-based surveys with 1–9 million participants. Lancet Glob Heal. 2018;6(10):e1077e1086. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 8.

    Report Card Development Team. Report card on physical activity for adults: moving toward a better normal. Published 2021. https://www.participaction.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/2021-ParticipACTION-Report-Card-on-Physical-Activity-for-Adults.pdf

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 9.

    Lee E-Y, Masuda J. The ‘freedom’ to pollute? An ecological analysis of neoliberal capitalist ideology, climate culpability, lifestyle factors, and population health risk in 124 countries. Can J Public Heal. 2021;112(5):877887. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 10.

    Lee E-Y, Abi Nader P, Aubert S, et al. Economic freedom, climate culpability, and physical activity indicators among children and adolescents: report card grades from the global matrix 4.0. J Phys Act Heal. 2022;19(11):745757. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 11.

    Hallegatte S, Bangalore M, Bonzanigo L, et al. Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty (Climate Change and Development, ed.). World Bank; 2016. http://hdl.handle.net/10986/22787. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 12.

    Reis R, Hunter RF, Garcia L, Salvo D. What the physical activity community can do for climate action and planetary health? J Phys Act Heal. 2022;19(1):23. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 13.

    Lee E-Y, Tremblay MS. Unmasking the political power of physical activity research: harnessing the “apolitical-ness” as a catalyst for addressing the challenges of our time. J Phys Act Heal. 2023;20(10):897899. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 14.

    World Health Organization. Global action plan on physical activity 2018–2030: more active people for a healthier world. Published 2018. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272722/9789241514187-eng.pdf

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 15.

    Salvo D, Garcia L, Reis RS, et al. Physical activity promotion and the United Nations sustainable development goals: building synergies to maximize impact. J Phys Act Heal. 2021;18(10):11631180. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 16.

    Abu-Omar K, Gelius P, Messing S. Physical activity promotion in the age of climate change. F1000Research. 2020;9:349. doi:

  • 17.

    Abu-Omar K, Chevance G, Tcymbal A, Gelius P, Messing S. Physical activity promotion, human and planetary health—a conceptual framework and suggested research priorities. J Clim Chang Heal. 2023;13:100262. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 18.

    Akter S, Islam MR, Rahman MM, et al. Evaluation of population-level tobacco control interventions and health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(7):e2322341. PubMed ID: 37418258 doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 19.

    Kilian C, Lemp JM, Llamosas-Falcón L, et al. Reducing alcohol use through alcohol control policies in the general population and population subgroups: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. 2023;59:101996. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 20.

    Li J, Lovatt M, Eadie D, et al. Public attitudes towards alcohol control policies in Scotland and England: results from a mixed-methods study. Soc Sci Med. 2017;177:177189. PubMed ID: 28171817 doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 21.

    Yun L, Vanderloo L, Berry TR, et al. Assessing the social climate of physical (in)activity in Canada. BMC Public Health. 2018;18(1):1301. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 22.

    McGetrick JA, Kongats K, Raine KD, Voyer C, Nykiforuk CIJ. Healthy public policy options to promote physical activity for chronic disease prevention: understanding Canadian policy influencer and general public preferences. J Phys Act Heal. 2019;16(7):565574. doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 23.

    Raine KD, Nykiforuk CIJ, Vu-Nguyen K, et al. Understanding key influencers’ attitudes and beliefs about healthy public policy change for obesity prevention. Obesity. 2014;22(11):24262433. PubMed ID: 25131938 doi:

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
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