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Ensuring Adequate Physical Activity in Childcare Programs: A Moving Target That Needs Improvement

May 27, 2022

We know that physical activity improves wellbeing. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children, ages 1 to 6, who are in childcare have at least 2 or more outdoor physical activities (weather permitting) and at least 60 to 90 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activities indoors or outdoors. So are these recommendations being met? To answer that question, Boyle et al (10.1542/peds.2020-048850) share with us an analysis of findings obtained from a nationally representative sampling of 227 classrooms in 96 childcare centers and 131 Head Start programs who are part of the Study of Nutrition and Activity in Childcare Settings (SNACS).

In this study, each of the 227 centers and programs were visited by an observer for one day who directly observed how much time children spent physically active, sedentary, as well as whether there were designated outdoor and indoor play spaces, what the physical activities were, and whether staff participated in these activities. The authors also investigated whether barriers (e.g., lack of outdoor space, bad weather) prevented physical activities.

The results are surprising in that while 74% of programs offered an adequate number of recommended outdoor opportunities, only 50% achieved the 60-90 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity and only 43% met both criteria (outdoor opportunities and adequate amounts of time engaged in physical activity).

Why is this and what can we do about it? The authors provide some suggestions to overcome barriers preventing young children from getting adequate physical activity time in childcare settings that will hopefully get you and your local childcare programs moving in the right direction. This study is also a good reminder for all of us to exercise and set a good example for our patients.  

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