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26 October 2009
Preschoolers are spending 85 per cent of their waking hours inactive, a Deakin University study has revealed.
“Despite popular belief that young children are always on the go, the results of the Healthy Active Preschool Years (HAPPY) study indicate that they are spending the majority of their time inactive,” said Deakin health researcher Trina Hinkley.
“The results of our study are concerning as they show that only 2.5 per cent of children aged three to five years are meeting the new national guideline of three hours of activity each day released by the Federal Government last week. Additionally, 63 per cent of the children in the study exceeded the guideline of one hour or less of TV/screen-based entertainment each day.”
For the HAPPY study, the physical activity levels of 501 children aged three to five years who had not started school were measured over eight days using activity monitors. The parents also completed a survey about their child’s activities and things that might influence their physical activity.
The results showed that the children spent an average of 85 per cent of their waking time being sedentary (sitting or standing still); 11 per cent in light intensity activity (light walking or standing activities) and four per cent in moderate-vigorous physical activity (jogging, fast bike riding etc). These findings are comparable with results from international studies in this age group.
“We know that physical activity declines throughout childhood and into adolescence, so beginning from such a low base, with such high levels of sedentary behaviour, is something we need to address now,” Ms Hinkley said.
“Interestingly, we saw a significant difference in the activity levels of the 5-year-olds compared with the 3-year-olds.
“The 5-year-olds spent only 3.3 per cent (around 23 minutes) of their time in moderate-vigorous activity compared with 6.3 per cent (around 45 minutes) in the 3-year-olds.
“That activity levels appear to be decreasing at such a young age is of concern. This might suggest that even in this young age group, the older children are being guided into more sedentary behaviours rather than being supported to engage in active opportunities. With the transition to school and a more structured learning environment, physical activity levels might decline even further.”
The study also revealed a difference in the activity levels of boys and girls.
“Even from a very young age, boys are more active than girls, with the boys in our study active for 11 minutes more than the girls each day,” Ms Hinkley said.
“Many studies have tried to engage adolescent girls in more physical activity. Given the results from this study, it may be necessary to target strategies even earlier in life to encourage girls to be more active by offering them opportunities to engage in activities, like dance, that they enjoy.”
Ms Hinkley believes that fathers play an important role in supporting their children’s physical activity levels.
“Fathers who were more active themselves had children who were more active,” Ms Hinkley said.
“Anecdotal evidence has suggested that fathers engage in more vigorous activities with their children than mothers do. From international research, we do know that children are more likely to be more active if their parents engage in active play with them.”
The study also found that, on average, 97 minutes were spent watching television each day, with 63 per cent of the children watching more than one hour and 27 per cent watching more than two hours each day.
“The new national guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviours in young children are aimed at supporting the development of healthy behaviours in our children. Encouraging children to be active as much as possible and minimizing screen-based entertainment are important to young children’s health and well-being,” Ms Hinkley said.
Ms Trina Hinkley
School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences
(03) 924 46910; 0403 045 173