Multiple variables related to physical activity levels in preschool children

Multiple variables related to physical activity levels in preschool children

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1. In the investigation of preschool characteristics associated with physical activity, the amount of indoor space for each child and the area around the preschool building accessible to play were found to be positively associated with total moderate to vigorous physical activity. 

2. Rainy days, vegetation on the playground, and being born preterm were found to be associated with decreased physical activity in preschool children.    

Study Rundown:  Current guidelines recommend that five-year-old children spend at least 60 minutes a day in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Previous research has shown that a child’s attendance at preschool can considerably influence total time spent in MVPA. Researchers in this study focused on individual, environmental and preschool staff variables which may influence MVPA positively or negatively in preschool children. Several factors were found to be positively associated with activity levels. These included the size of indoor area, location of the preschool building on the playground, motor coordination, male gender, and percentage of preschool time in the afternoon. Negative correlates included pre-term birth, vegetation on the playground, and rainy days. None of the variables related to staff, such as physical education received, were associated to MVPA. Although researchers may have been limited in their ability to account for all aspects contributing to a child’s MVPA, this study improves upon previously inconsistent research by identifying potentially modifiable variables, such as the size of indoor play areas, to improve activity levels during preschool years.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

Relevant Reading: Global recommendations on physical activity for health

Study Author, Line Groenholt Olesen, MS, MSc, talks to 2 Minute Medicine: Centre of Research in Childhood Health, Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark.

“The preschool plays an important role in securing appropriate development of young children, since a large proportion of children spend the majority of their wakening hours at the preschool. Children´s physical activity preferences are expected to be founded during the early years. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that preschool children aren´t sufficiently physically active and that children have more similar physical activity levels within a preschool compared to the physical activity levels across preschools. This highlights the need for more research into which factors that explain the variation in the physical activity behavior specifically during preschool attendance. By including a large number of preschools, the Odense Preschool Study report factors across different domains (individual, preschool staff, preschool environment) expected to be correlated with the children´s physical activity level. The study identifies significant correlates at the individual and the overall environmental domain, of which some are modifiable.”

In-Depth [cross-sectional study]: A total of 426 children (five to six years old) were included in this study from 42 different public preschools in the city of Odense, Funen, Denmark.   Activity levels of each participant were measured using an activity monitor worn on the hip for one week. Motor coordination was also tested in each child using the Kiphard-Schilling body coordination test. Preschool staff were surveyed to determine physical activity enjoyment, physical education training, and other factors which may have influenced activity levels in children. A multilevel mixed model was used to determine variable association to time spent in MVPA, and proportions of groups were compared using Pearson’s chi squared test. Several variables were found to be positive or negative correlates of MVPA. Factors positively associated with MVPA included child motor coordination (p = .001), male gender (p < .001), percentage of preschool time in the afternoon (p = .001), location of the preschool building on the playground (p = .04), and size of the indoor play area per child (p = .03).

Negative factors included pre-term birth (p < .001), rainy days (p < .001), and vegetation on the playground (p = .04).

By Brandon Childs and Leah H. Carr

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