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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Schoolyard physical activity of 6–11 year old children assessed by GPS and accelerometry

Dirk Dessing1, Frank H Pierik1*, Reinier P Sterkenburg1, Paula van Dommelen2, Jolanda Maas3 and Sanne I de Vries2

Author Affiliations

1 TNO, Department of Urban Environment and Safety, P.O. Box 80015, 3508 TA Utrecht, The Netherlands

2 TNO, Lifestyle, P.O. Box 2215, 2301 CE Leiden, The Netherlands

3 VU Medical Center, Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO Institute, P.O Box 7057 1007 MB Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:97  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-97

Published: 14 August 2013

Abstract

Background

Children’s current physical activity levels are disturbingly low when compared to recommended levels. This may be changed by intervening in the school environment. However, at present, it is unclear to what extent schoolyard physical activity contributes towards reaching the daily physical activity guideline. The aim of this study was to examine how long and at what intensity children are physically active at the schoolyard during different time segments of the day. Moreover, the contribution of schoolyard physical activity towards achieving the recommended guideline for daily physical activity was investigated.

Methods

Children (n=76) between the age of 6–11 years were recruited in six different schools in five cities (>70.000 residents) in the Netherlands. During the weekdays of a regular school week, childrens’ physical activity and location were measured with ActiGraph accelerometers and Travelrecorder GPS receivers. Data was collected from December 2008 to April 2009. From the data, the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) on and outside the schoolyard was established. Moreover, the percentage of MVPA on the schoolyard was compared between the following segments of the day: pre-school, school, school recess, lunch break and post-school. Differences between boys and girls were compared using linear and logistic mixed-effects models.

Results

On average, children spent 40.1 minutes/day on the schoolyard. During this time, boys were more active on the schoolyard, with 27.3% of their time spent as MVPA compared to 16.7% among girls (OR=2.11 [95% CI 1.54 - 2.90]). The children were most active on the schoolyard during school recess, during which boys recorded 39.5% and girls recorded 23.4% of the time as MVPA (OR=2.55 [95% CI: 1.69 - 3.85]). Although children were only present at the schoolyard for 6.1% of the total reported time, this time contributed towards 17.5% and 16.8% of boys’ and girls’ minutes of MVPA.

Conclusions

On the schoolyard, children’s physical activity levels are higher than on average over the whole day. Physical activity levels are particularly high during school recess. The school environment seems to be an important setting for improving children’s physical activity levels. Further research on the facilitators of these high activity levels may provide targets for further promotion of physical activity among children.

Keywords:
Physical activity; Schoolyard; Primary school; Children; Accelerometer; Global Positioning System (GPS)