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Objective - Accelerometer

67. Preschoolers' Physical Activity, Screen Time and Compliance with Recommendations

Research Article
Trina Hinkley et al
March 2012

Commentary by Rona Macniven, Cluster for Physical Activity and Health (CPAH), University of Sydney

 In 2009, the Department of Health and Ageing released recommendations for physical activity and screen-based entertainment for children under five years, the first to target this age group. The recommendations advise preschool children (three to five years) achieve a minimum of three hours of physical activity every day, spread throughout the day, and engage in no more than one hour of screen-based entertainment a day.

 Previous recommendations for this age group from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) have advised at least one hour of structured and one or more hours of unstructured physical activity every day. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations advise no more than two hours per day of screen entertainment for children two years or older.

Less is currently known about physical activity and screen time behaviours of this age group, compared to older children. This study aimed to identify the percent of time a sample of Australian preschool children spend being physically active, investigate how much time preschool children spend in screen-based behaviors, investigate differences in physical activity and screen-based behaviors by sex and age, determine the prevalence of adherence to published recommendations for physical activity and screen-based entertainment in preschool children.

The study took place in Melbourne and involved 1004 preschool children and their families as part of the Healthy Active Preschool Years (HAPPY) Study. The children wore accelerometers for 8 days to measure their physical activity and parents reported on their child’s screen time including television/video/DVD viewing, computer/internet and electronic game use during a typical week as well as demographic information. Of the total 1004 children, 703 (70%) had sufficient accelerometry data and 935 children (93%) had useable data on time spent in screen-based entertainment.

Overall, children spent 16% (127 mins/day) of their time being physically active. Boys were significantly more active than girls (p<0001) but there were no differences in percent of time in vigorous physical activity. Younger children were more active than older children with 12% less time spent being active with each additional year (OR=0.88, 95% CI 0.84, 0.92). Children spent an average of 113 minutes per day in screen-based entertainment with only small differences between boys and girls. Five percent of children met the Australian physical activity guidelines, with 22% engaged in screen time for less than one hour a day but only 1% of children met both Australian recommendations. Thirty two percent met both of the less stringent NASPE and AAP recommendations with 69.9% of boys and 49.8% of girls achieving two hours of physical activity a day and 59% engaged in less than two hours of screen time a day.

Even in young children of preschool age, insufficient physical activity and excessive screen time is apparent and differences between boys and gender and declines with age mirror those known to exist among older children. The novelty of the Australian guidelines may mean parents and childcare providers are unaware of the specific guidelines for this age group, with their higher physical activity and lower screen time compared to recommendations for older children. More effort needs to be made to promote the recommendations to families and those working with pre-school children and to suggest practical ways of increasing physical activity and reducing screen time in this age group.