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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