Research Summary

A 5-year longitudinal analysis of modifiable predictors for outdoor play and screen-time of 2- to 5-year-olds

Early parenting practices and mothers' physical activity level and screen time use predict level of of outdoor play and screen-time in 2- to 5-year-olds

International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

This study is based on the understanding that the early childhood years represent a critical time for establishing physical activity and sedentary behavior patterns. For young children, physical activity occurs predominantly during active play which is more likely to occur outdoors than indoors. This study, therefore, aimed to identify modifiable factors in early life that predict outdoor play and screen-time (a sedentary indoor activity) in 2- to 5-year old children.

This longitudinal study was based on five-year follow-up data from the Healthy Beginnings Trial undertaken in Sydney, Australia from 2007 to 2013. A total of 667 pregnant women were recruited for the study. Data was collected by way of in-home interviews with each mother by trained nurses at five different time periods: First during the pregnancy (at 30 - 36 weeks) and then at age 1, 2, 3.5, and 5. Additionally, a telephone survey was conducted when each child was 6 months old.

Data collected during the pregnancy interview included information on mothers’ demographics, physical activity, screen-time, knowledge of child development, and awareness of childhood obesity. This information was used as baseline data for the study. Information about “tummy time” (the time when a baby is placed on his or her stomach while awake and supervised) was collected at 6 months and screen-time at 1 year. Information collected during the remaining interviews (at ages 2, 3.5, and 5) focused on children’s outdoor playtime.

Findings indicated that mothers’ screen-time during pregnancy and children’s daily screen-time at age 1 predicted children’s daily screen-time across ages 2 to 5. Mother’s physical activity level, a baseline understanding of the importance of playing with her child, and practicing tummy time daily predicted children’s outdoor playtime across ages 2 to 5.

These findings indicate that mothers played an important role in their children’s outdoor play and screen-time in the first years of life, and that children’s early exposure to screen devices could be associated with their later screen-time. The implications of these findings include the idea that the modifiable predictors of children’s physical activity level and amount of screen time identified in this study may help inform the development of early intervention programs for improving the health and well-being of children.

Xu, H., Wen, L. M., Hardy, L. L., & Rissel, C.. (2016). A 5-year longitudinal analysis of modifiable predictors for outdoor play and screen-time of 2- to 5-year-olds. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 13(96). doi: