Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Are Preschool Children Active Enough? Objectively Measured Physical Activity Levels

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Are Preschool Children Active Enough? Objectively Measured Physical Activity Levels

Article excerpt

The present study aimed to describe accelerometer-based physical activity levels in 4- and 5-year-old children (N = 76) on 2 weekdays and 2 weekend days. The children were sedentary for 9.6 hr (85 %) daily, while they engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) for 34 min (5 %). Only 7 % of the children engaged in MVPA for 60 min per day, and only 26 % reached the standard of 120 min of total activity. Their engagement in MVPA did not significantly differ between weekend and weekdays. Mean activity counts and minutes in MVPA did not differ between genders. Physical activity levels in this sample of preschool children were far lower than recommended.

Key words: accelerometry, health behavior

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The childhood obesity epidemic also affects preschool children (Hedley et al., 2004; Sherry, Mei, Scanlon, Mokdad, & Grummer, 2004), and reduced physical activity is an important contributor to this problem (Dietz, 1997; Janz et al., 2002; Trost, Sirard, Dowda, Pfeiffer, & Pate, 2003). Furthermore, enhanced physical activity may also be a promising means of preventing obesity in young children (Reilly & McDowell, 2003). Although the link between physical activity and health outcomes in preschool children needs further study, engaging in moderate to vigorous physical acitivity (MVPA) for at least 60 min per day has been recommended for this age group (Department of Health, Physical Activity, Health Improvement, and Prevention, 2004; Strong et al., 2005). Moreover, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (2002) released physical activity guidelines for young children attending preschools. The guidelines suggest that preschool-aged children accumulate at least 120 min of physical activity per day, with half of that time spent in structured physical activity and the remaining time in unstructured free-play settings.

Activity patterns in young children are typically sporadic and intermittent, with frequent bouts of brief exercise and random transitions to high and low intensity (Bailey et al., 1995). As a result, only direct observation or objective measures with short registration intervals should be used to evaluate physical activity levels in young children (Bailey et al., 1995; Fox & Riddoch, 2000; Sirard & Pate, 2001). Hence, it is difficult to measure physical activity in preschool-aged children, and the scientific literature includes few such studies among this age group.

Jackson et al. (2003) reported the first objective measurements of a representative sample of 60 Scottish 3-4-year-olds. Mean accelerometry counts/min were assessed over 3 days (2 weekdays and 1 weekend day). Mean total activity counts of 777 counts/min for boys were significantly higher than the mean total activity counts of 657 counts/min for girls. Similarly, Reilly et al. (2004) found total activity counts per minute ranging from 692 in 3-year-olds to 818 in 5-year-olds. In the latter study, accelerometer data were obtained for 3 days in 78 3-year-olds and for 7 days in 72 5-year-olds. Kelly, Reilly, Grant, and Paton (2005) measured habitual physical activity and sedentary behavior for 7 consecutive days using accelerometry in 41 4- and 5-year-old children. A mean total activity count of 726 counts/min was reported. Counts per minute were higher in boys (834 counts/min) compared to girls (628 counts/min). Furthermore, Fisher et al. (2005) evaluated seasonality in objectively measured physical activity over 3-6 days in 209 Scottish preschool children attending nursery school. Total activity counts ranging from 701 counts/min in spring to 826 counts/ min in summer were reported.

However, mean total activity counts do not account for different intensity levels. As a result, they give little physiologically meaningful information. Furthermore, in the literature times spent at different intensity levels are also reported by using cut-points for the numbers of counts corresponding to sedentary, light, moderate, and vigorous activity. …

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