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Measuring the Physical Activity Practices Used by Parents of Preschool Children


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2013 - Volume 45 - Issue 12 - p 2369–2377
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31829d27de
Applied Sciences

Introduction Parents play a critical role in shaping children’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, including those around physical activity and inactivity. Our ability to identify which practices effectively promote children’s physical activity and limit inactivity is limited by existing measurement instruments. This project will present a newly developed physical activity parenting practices survey, the psychometric properties of this survey’s scales, and their association with child physical activity and screen time behaviors.

Methods A sample of 324 parents with 2- to 5-yr-old children from central North Carolina completed a series of questionnaires, including this newly developed survey of physical activity parenting practices. Child physical activity was assessed by ActiGraph GT3X accelerometers and parent report. Exploratory factor analysis was used to identify physical activity parenting practice constructs, and Pearson correlation was used to explore relations between constructs and child physical activity.

Results Fourteen parent practices used to either control or support children’s physical activity or screen time were identified. Limits on screen time (r = −0.44), use of screen time to control behavior (r = 0.23), exposure to TV (r = 0.33), and parent modeling of physical activity (r = 0.37) were all significantly associated with children’s TV viewing. Use of physical activity to control child behavior was significantly associated with time spent outside (r = 0.15) and minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity (r = 0.16). Several supportive practices were associated with time outside (+) and TV time (−).

Conclusions Results provide support for this new measure of physical activity parenting practices and identify several practices that are clearly associated with child physical activity.

1Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC; and 2Department of Nutrition, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

Address for correspondence: Amber E. Vaughn, M.P.H., Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1700 Martin L. King Jr. Blvd., CB 7426, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7426; E-mail:

Submitted for publication March 2013.

Accepted for publication May 2013.

© 2013 American College of Sports Medicine