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Seasonal and Annual Variation in Young Children’s Physical Activity

MCKEE, DAVID P.1; MURTAGH, ELAINE M.2; BOREHAM, COLIN A. G.3; NEVILL, ALAN M.4; MURPHY, MARIE H.5

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2012 - Volume 44 - Issue 7 - p 1318–1324
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182464db5
Epidemiology

Introduction: It is well established that regular physical activity (PA) contributes to lower levels of morbidity and mortality. However, little is known about the stability of very young children’s PA habits across seasons and years. The aims of this study were to 1) examine the influence of season and increasing age on objectively assessed PA in preschool children and 2) examine the stability of young children’s PA rankings during 1 yr.

Methods: The PA levels of preschool (3- and 4-yr-old) children were measured, using 6-d pedometer step counts, during winter and spring (n = 85, 52 boys). PA levels were measured again 1 yr after the spring data collection when the children had entered primary school (n = 37, 22 boys). Parents completed questionnaires to assess attitudes toward PA, PA habits, and demographic information in the winter of the first year and the spring of the second year.

Results: Young children take approximately 2000 (20%) fewer steps per day in winter than in spring with a rank order stability between the two measures of r = 0.04 (P < 0.01). A modest degree of the observed intrachild or seasonal variation was related to the amount of time fathers played with their children (P < 0.05) and the availability of a safe place for children to play (P < 0.05). Children took approximately 2300 (20%) more steps per day at age 5 compared with age 4 (P < 0.01). The rank order stability of young children’s PA during this period was low with correlations ranging from 0.01 to 0.15.

Conclusions: Results suggest that a one-off assessment of PA is unlikely to be representative of a young child’s activity during 1 yr and that PA tracks poorly from age 4 to 5.

1Department of Health and Physical Education, Stranmillis University College, Belfast, NORTHERN IRELAND; 2Department of Arts Education and Physical Education, Faculty of Education, Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick, Limerick, IRELAND; 3Institute for Sport and Health, University College Dublin, Dublin, IRELAND; 4School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, ENGLAND; and 5Sport and Exercise Science Research Institute, University of Ulster, Newtownabbey, NORTHERN IRELAND

Address for correspondence: Marie H. Murphy, Ph.D., Sport and Exercise Science Research Institute, University of Ulster, Newtownabbey, County Antrim BT37 0QB, Northern Ireland; E-mail: mh.murphy@ulster.ac.uk.

Submitted for publication July 2011.

Accepted for publication December 2011.

©2012The American College of Sports Medicine