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Correlates of Children’s Physical Activity

A Canadian Multisite Study


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2019 - Volume 51 - Issue 12 - p 2482–2490
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002089

Purpose To inform future physical activity (PA) interventions among children, we investigated the correlates of PA among 8- to 12-yr-olds in three regions of Canada: Ottawa, Trois-Rivières, and Vancouver.

Methods We recruited 1699 children (55.0% girls) in 37 schools located in urban, suburban, and rural areas that differed in socioeconomic status. Children wore a sealed SC-StepRx pedometer capable of measuring moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) for seven consecutive days. Children and one of their parents/guardians completed a questionnaire that captured multiple potential PA correlates. Publicly available data on weather and neighborhood walkability were obtained. Multiply-imputed gender-stratified linear mixed models were used to examine the correlates of daily step counts and MVPA while controlling for age, site, type of urbanization, and area-level socioeconomic status.

Results Each additional hour spent outdoors was associated with higher PA in boys (+769 steps per day; +3.7 min MVPA per day) and girls (+596 steps per day; +3.5 min·d−1). Boys’ PA declined with age (−500 steps per day; −3.7 min·d−1). Boys were less active if they had a long-standing injury/illness (−1862 steps per day; −3.7 min·d−1) or their parents reported driving to work (−835 steps per day; −4.4 min·d−1), were worried about traffic (−982 steps per day; −6.4 min·d−1), or about other people in their neighborhood (−1250 steps per day). Girls speaking neither English nor French at home were less active (−620 steps per day; −3.7 min·d−1). In girls, each degree Celsius increase in morning temperature was associated with 77 additional steps per day, and each kilometer increase in active school travel distance was associated with 0.5 more MVPA minutes per day.

Conclusion Consistent with previous studies, our results suggest that PA interventions should aim to increase outdoor time. The observed gender differences in PA correlates suggest the need for a gender-sensitized approach to PA promotion.

1Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, CANADA

2Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, ON, CANADA

3Département des Sciences de l’activité Physique, Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Trois-Rivières, QC, CANADA

4School of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, CANADA

5Centre for Hip Health and Mobility, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Centre, Vancouver, BC, CANADA

Address for correspondence: Richard Larouche, Ph.D., University of Lethbridge, 4401 University Drive, Office M3049 Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada T1K 3M4; E-mail:

Submitted for publication March 2019.

Accepted for publication July 2019.

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Online date: July 15, 2019

© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine