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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Effect of a family focused active play intervention on sedentary time and physical activity in preschool children

Mareesa V O’Dwyer12*, Stuart J Fairclough2, Zoe Knowles2 and Gareth Stratton23

Author Affiliations

1 Early Childhood Ireland, Hainault House, Belgard Square, Tallaght, Dublin 24, Ireland

2 Research Institute of Sports and Exercise Science, Liverpool John Moores University, Tom Reilly Building, Byrom Street, Liverpool, L3 3AF, UK

3 Research Centre for Sports and Exercise Sciences, College of Engineering, Swansea University SA2 8PP, Swansea, UK

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:117  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-117

Published: 1 October 2012

Abstract

Background

Early childhood provides a window of opportunity for the promotion of physical activity. Given the limited effectiveness of interventions to date, new approaches are needed. Socio-ecological models suggest that involving parents as intervention targets may be effective in fostering healthier lifestyles in children. This study describes the effectiveness of a family-focused ‘Active Play’ intervention in decreasing sedentary time and increasing total physical activity in preschool children.

Method

Seventy-seven families were recruited from 8 randomly selected SureStart children’s centres in the North West of England. Centres were randomly assigned to either an intervention (n = 4) or a comparison group (n = 4). Parents and children in the intervention group received a 10-week active play programme delivered by trained active play professionals; this included an activity and educational component. Families in the comparison group were asked to maintain their usual routine. Each participating parent and child wore a uni-axial accelerometer for 7 days at baseline and post-test. Week and weekend day sedentary time and total physical activity adjusted for child- and home- level covariates were analysed using multilevel analyses.

Results

Significant intervention effects were observed for sedentary time and physical activity for both week and weekend days. Children in the intervention group engaged in 1.5% and 4.3% less sedentary time during week and weekend days, respectively and 4.5% and 13.1% more physical activity during week and weekend days, respectively than children in the comparison group. Parent’s participation in sport and their physical activity levels, child’s sex, availability of media in the home and attendance at organised activities were significant predictors of sedentary time and physical activity in this age group.

Conclusion

A 10-week family focused active play intervention produced positive changes in sedentary time and total physical activity levels in preschool children. Specific covariates were identified as having a significant effect on the outcome measures. Moreover, children whose parents were active engaged in less sedentary time and more physical activity suggesting that parent’s activity habits are mediators of physical activity engagement in this age group.

Keywords:
Preschool children; Parent involvement; Active play; Physical activity; Sedentary time; Accelerometry; Intervention; Multi-level analysis