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Preschoolers’ Physical Activity, Screen Time, and Compliance with Recommendations


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2012 - Volume 44 - Issue 3 - p 458–465
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318233763b

Purpose: Little evidence exists about the prevalence of adequate levels of physical activity and of appropriate screen-based entertainment in preschool children. Previous studies have generally relied on small samples. This study investigates how much time preschool children spend being physically active and engaged in screen-based entertainment. The study also reports compliance with the recently released Australian recommendations for physical activity (≥3 h·d−1) and screen entertainment (≤1 h·d−1) and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education physical activity guidelines (≥2 h·d−1) and American Academy of Pediatrics screen-based entertainment recommendations (≤2 h·d−1) in a large sample of preschool children.

Methods: Participants were 1004 Melbourne preschool children (mean age = 4.5 yr, range = 3–5 yr) and their families in the Healthy Active Preschool Years study. Physical activity data were collected by accelerometry during an 8-d period. Parents reported their child’s television/video/DVD viewing, computer/Internet, and electronic game use during a typical week. A total of 703 (70%) had sufficient accelerometry data, and 935 children (93%) had useable data on time spent in screen-based entertainment.

Results: Children spent 16% (approximately 127 min·d−1) of their time being physically active. Boys and younger children were more active than were girls and older children, respectively. Children spent an average of 113 min·d−1 in screen-based entertainment. Virtually no children (<1%) met both the Australian recommendations and 32% met both the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.

Conclusions: The majority of young children are not participating in adequate amounts of physical activity and in excessive amounts of screen-based entertainment. It is likely that physical activity may decline and that screen-based entertainment may increase with age. Compliance with recommendations may be further reduced. Strategies to promote physical activity and reduce screen-based entertainment in young children are required.

1Interdisciplinary Educational Research Institute, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, AUSTRALIA; and 2Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, Deakin University, Victoria, AUSTRALIA

Address for correspondence: Trina Hinkley, Interdisciplinary Educational Research Institute, University of Wollongong, Wollongong NSW 2522, Australia; E-mail:

Submitted for publication May 2011.

Accepted for publication August 2011.

©2012The American College of Sports Medicine