What We Are Doing
Why are we doing this?
Our goal with the OMiCS study is to use a personalized medicine approach to better understand the health of kids across all levels of physical activity. We know that active kids are healthy kids, what we want to know is why and how.
It is now known that physical activity helps improve our health in many ways, including a lower risk of chronic disease and obesity, and improved self-esteem and mental health; but, only 9% of Canadian children aged 5-17 are currently meeting the recommended 60-minutes of physical activity per day.
Children who are physically active show improved musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health, and have a decreased risk of developing chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes and obesity. Active children also show decreased incidences of anxiety and depression, as well as improved socioemotional development and self-esteem.
All of these factors point to the abundance of benefits provided by physical activity, and serve as the motivation behind our study: why do children with increased levels of physical activity demonstrate these health benefits?
What are OMICS?
Omics is a term that describes a new field in biology. It includes fields like genomics (analysis of genes), proteomics (analysis of proteins), metabolomics (analysis of metabolites) and microbiomics (analysis of the gut microbiome). The purpose of analyzing a person’s omics are to measure and describe large groups of biological molecules in a person. Those groups of molecules ultimately determine the structure, function, and health status of cells, tissues, and organs. Good health relies upon the amount and types of hundreds of these proteins and other molecules, circulating in our blood and sitting in our guts.
Omics-testing is different than genetic testing. Genetic testing looks for the presence or absence of specific genes (specifically genes that can cause rare diseases like Huntington’s Disease) and how they are passed on from generation to generation. Omics testing is a new clinical tool for adults that is demonstrating great utility in predicting health status in adults. Omics testing looks at how hundreds of molecules in an adult’s blood compares to other adults who share similar health status and characteristics, like age and sex. We now have evidence that constellations of hundreds of proteins and other molecules easily differentiate between adults who are very physically active and those that are sedentary. There are currently no standards to compare your child’s hundreds of molecules to standards derived from other children, and as a result, is still not used for clinical purposes in children. The purpose of the current study is to explore potential health differences in ”omic profiles” similarly exist between children at different ends of the physical activity spectrum.
What does this mean for us as scientists?
It means that these different “omic” tools give us an opportunity to dig deeper into the why’s and how’s of our bodies and the science behind health and disease. Research is now focusing on the interaction between our DNA and the environment: how the world around us can affect our DNA and ultimately our health outcomes.
The goal of this study is to do just that: to see how changes in the environment of a child (the presence of daily physical activity) influence the “omic” profile, and the health outcomes, of that child.
With the information provided from the individual “omic” profiles obtained from this research, we will have more pieces to the puzzle, and will be better able to tackle unanswered questions.
Although there has been lots of genomic research in adults, very little research like this has been done in children. This is why it’s very important for us to start looking at children of all activity levels, to see if any differences exist in their “omic” profiles.
Because this is a new field of research, it is difficult to know what we will find.
As we said before, our main goal is to look at differences between children across the physical activity spectrum, and we will do this using the science of genomics.
This means that the information we will be able to provide to you about your child’s “omic” profile may be quite limited, as we are only just beginning the journey into this field of research in children.
That being said, we are in an exciting transition in this area of scientific innovation, and data from your child will be instrumental in creating a knowledge-base for discovery.
What is physical literacy?
Physical literacy is defined as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life. For more information as well as helpful infographics, take a look at the Active for Life website, which has many resources for parents and children: http://activeforlife.com/physical-literacy-2/.
Physical literacy is a key concept built around four important components. The first is physical competence, which is quite simply how “good” you are at completing a certain movement, or the quality of the movement you can produce.
The second is motivation, which is vital for initiation and maintenance of daily physical activity; a child will only stay physical active if they feel motivated to do so.
The third component is confidence, which is interconnected with motivation as well as physical competence, and will also influence a child’s willingness to participate in physical activity throughout their day.
The final component is the knowledge and understanding to value physical activity in daily life. Children who are aware of and understand the benefits of physical activity will be more likely to maintain these healthy habits in their daily lives, and therefore take responsibility for making sure they get enough physical activity each day.
The outcome of these four components is a child who is not only physically competent while performing his or her physical activities, but also feels motivated and confident to continue these activities throughout the lifespan.