Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Opportunity to Choose the Activity Context Does Not Increase Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity Exhibited by Preschool Children

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Opportunity to Choose the Activity Context Does Not Increase Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity Exhibited by Preschool Children

Article excerpt

According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2014), physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for death in the world. Conversely, physical activity is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle and is one way of counteracting the negative health outcomes associated with physical inactivity (American Heart Association [AHA], 2014). Children and adults who are not sufficiently active are at higher risk of developing a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, depression, and certain types of cancer (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2014; Reilly & Kelly, 2011). Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children engage in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) for at least 60 minutes every day (CDC, 2014).

Recently, researchers have demonstrated that functional analysis methods can identify environmental variables functionally related to physical activity (e.g., Hustyi, Normand, Larson, & Morley, 2012; Larson, Normand, Morley, & Hustyi, 2014; Larson, Normand, Morley, & Miller, 2013). For example, Hustyi et al. (2012) and Larson et al. (2014a) experimentally manipulated several environmental contexts reported to correlate with MVPA (Brown et al., 2009). Examining contextual influences on MVPA, such as activity contexts, in the absence of social contingencies (e.g., adult attention) is important for several reasons. First, a child might play alone in the backyard or at the park while the parent reads a book or talks on the phone. Second, resources are spent on purchasing and arranging outdoor play materials and building play equipment in parks, schools, and for private use, which are intended to encourage more physical activity in children. Third, it is important to analyze different environmental factors in isolation as well as addressing potential interaction effects (e.g., activity contexts and social contingencies). In Hustyi et al. (2012) and Larson et al. (2014a, b), preschool children were repeatedly exposed to several activity contexts (i.e., open grassy play area, a play area containing outdoor toys, a play area containing fixed playground equipment, and a play area containing a table and indoor activities) according to a multielement experimental design. M VPA proved to be functionally related to the activity context in which the children played, as most participants engaged in more MVPA in the fixed-equipment condition when they were playing alone.

In both the Hustyi et al. (2012) and Larson et al. (2014a, b) studies, all participants engaged in relatively little MVPA during baseline conditions even though the activity contexts that evoked MVPA during the functional analysis were available to them. Hustyi et al. analyzed the baseline data to determine how often participants engaged with each of the available activity contexts during baseline and found that three of the participants never played on the fixed equipment and the fourth did so during only 10% of the baseline observation intervals. That is, given the opportunity to play in the activity context (fixed equipment) that evoked the most MVPA, the participants instead chose to play in the activity contexts that evoked little or no MVPA. However, it is unclear how much direct experience participants actually had playing in activity contexts that evoked MVPA prior to baseline, and preference was not systematically evaluated. These findings suggest that playing on the fixed equipment was not preferred, possibly influencing their choice of activities and, hence, the amount of MVPA in which they engaged during free-choice situations.

Although participant preferences for certain activity contexts might influence MVPA, it also is possible that the opportunity to choose the activity contexts, independent of preference, can influence MVPA. Although there are no studies evaluating the effects of preference and choice on MVPA exhibited by young children, the opportunity to choose an activity has been reported to increase appropriate behavior and decrease problem behavior (e. …

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