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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Parent-child relationship of directly measured physical activity

Bernard F Fuemmeler1*, Cheryl B Anderson2 and Louise C Mâsse3

Author Affiliations

1 Duke University Medical Center, Department of Community and Family Medicine, Durham, NC, USA

2 Baylor College of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Children's Nutrition Research Center, Houston, TX, USA

3 University of British Columbia, Department of Pediatrics and School of Population and Public Health, Vancouver, BC, Canada

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8:17  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-17

Published: 8 March 2011

Abstract

Background

Studies on parent-child correlations of physical activity have been mixed. Few studies have examined concurrent temporal patterns of physical activity and sedentary behaviors in parents and children using direct measures. The purpose of this study was to examine parent-child activity correlations by gender, day of week, and time of day, using accelerometers - a method for direct assessment of physical activity.

Methods

Accelerometers were used to assess physical activity and sedentary time in 45 fathers, 45 mothers and their children (23 boys, 22 girls, mean age 9.9 years) over the course of 4 days (Thursday - Sunday). Participants were instructed to wear accelerometers for 24 hours per day. Data from accelerometers were aggregated into waking hours on weekdays and weekends (6:00 am to midnight) and weekday after-school hours (3:00 - 7:00 pm).

Results

Across the 4 days, the mean minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) for fathers was 30.0 (s.d. = 17.3), for mothers was 30.1 (s.d. = 20.1) and for children was 145.47 (s.d. = 51.64). Mothers' and fathers' minutes of MVPA and minutes of sedentary time were positively correlated with child physical activity and sedentary time (all ps < .05, with the exception of mothers' and children's sedentary time on weekdays from 6 am to 12 am). Multivariate linear regression analyses resulted in significant effects between parents and children for MVPA across all time segments. For sedentary activity, significant associations were observed only between father and child on the weekend. Sedentary activity of parents and children were not related for other time segments. Models examining the associations of one or two parents with high levels of MVPA or sedentary time indicated a dose response increase in child activity relative to parent.

Conclusions

Greater parental MVPA was associated with increased child MVPA. In addition, having two parents with higher levels of MVPA was associated with greater levels of activity in children. Sedentary time in children was not as strongly correlated with that of their parents. Findings lend support to the notion that to increase childhood activity levels it may be fruitful to improve physical activity among parents.