Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Promoting Physical Activity in Preschoolers: A Review of the Guidelines, Barriers, and Facilitators for Implementation of Policies and Practices

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Promoting Physical Activity in Preschoolers: A Review of the Guidelines, Barriers, and Facilitators for Implementation of Policies and Practices

Article excerpt

Promoting healthy physical activity (PA) behaviours in children between the ages of 0 to 5 years has immediate impacts on the health and well-being of children and serves as a powerful strategy to prevent or minimise the occurrence of chronic diseases in later life. Although children are naturally inclined to partake in active play, their PA levels generally fall below the current Canadian PA recommendations. Given that more than 50% of Canadian children spend 6 hours or more per day in day care settings (home and centres), implementing PA interventions through careful policy development within these settings represents a strategic way to help increase PA levels in young children. Parents and early childhood educators, through their perceptions and beliefs, play an important role in fostering healthy PA behaviours in preschoolers. The purpose of this review article is to summarise the PA guidelines for young children, to discuss the effects of PA and sedentary behaviours on several aspects of children's development and functioning, to describe the barriers and facilitators of PA and sedentary behaviours in preschoolers, and to present recommendations to increase opportunities for PA in the day care setting.

Keywords: preschool children, physical activity, determinants, guidelines, policies

There is an assumption among parents, early childhood educators, and even by some researchers that young children are sufficiently active and that the amount and intensity of their natural physical activities are adequate (Alpert, Field, Goldstein, & Perry, 1990; Timmons, Nay lor & Pfeiffer, 2007). However, this assumption contradicts the trends in the increasing rates of overweight and obese children. For example, recent epidemiological data show that the percentage of Canadian children and adolescents classified as overweight or obese darted from 14% to 31% among boys, and from 14% to 25% among girls, during the past two decades, and results indicate this upward trend is likely to continue (M. S. Tremblay, Shields, Laviolette, Craig, & Janssen, 2010). Improving physical activity (PA) and nutrition behaviours of children and youth in the school setting in particular is regarded as a critical intervention strategy for enhancing population health in the long term. Although a number of studies have investigated proexercise and antiobesity initiatives implemented in primary and secondary school-based programs (see, for instance, the Canadian Journal of Public Health, 2010, Supplement 2, on school health and the references therein), there is a paucity of research aimed at determining the prevalence and effectiveness of PA programs targeting preschool children in day care settings. Given that over half of Canadian children are in some form of child care and that one quarter of these children attend day care centres (Statistics Canada, 2003), there is great potential to implement PA interventions aimed at developing healthy PA behaviours in early childhood, thereby enhancing children's health in the short term and fostering lifelong healthy PA behaviours to curtail the prevalence of chronic diseases in later life.

Accordingly, the objective of this article is to review research evidence for promoting and increasing PA in preschoolers and the need for policies, preschool PA programs, as well as training and education for parents and for early childhood educators.

Definitions and Guidelines

PA is defined as any physical movement resulting from skeletal muscle contraction and energy expenditure (Caspersen, Powell, & Christenson, 1985; Goran, 1998). The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends that infants aged less than 1 year be physically active several times daily through interactive floorbased play, and that children aged 1 to 4 years accumulate at least 180 min of PA at any intensity throughout the day to progress toward at least 60 min of energetic play by the age of 5 years (M. S. Tremblay et al. …

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