More Child Physical Activity Needed
Special Report - January 11, 2010
The majority of child care centers in North Carolina do not provide children with the amount of physical activity that is recommended by some health experts, according to a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. The study, which was published in the December 2009 issue of the journal, Pediatrics, involved an assessment of physical activities and policies at 96 childcare centers in 33 counties in North Carolina. It was motivated by increasing concerns over rising rates of childhood obesity in the United States. The North Carolina child care centers in the study were measured using eight best practice guidelines previously developed by the UNC researchers in an earlier study. These guidelines include the recommendation that preschoolers get 120 minutes of active physical play each day, that teachers lead physical activity twice a day, and that children get outdoor time at least twice a day. Other best practice measurements included the amount of sedentary opportunities (defined as “daily opportunities that may result in little to no physical activity” such as television watching), and physical activity policies. Overall, the study found “that only a few of the best-practice guidelines were achieved by a majority of the 96 North Carolina child care centers.”
More specifically, the study found that only 13.7 percent of the 96 child care centers in North Carolina offered children 120 minutes a day of active playtime. However, nearly one-third of the centers offered more than 90 minutes of active play each day. Six of the centers offered only 15 minutes of active playtime each day.
The study also found that at 82 percent of the centers, “children were not sitting for longer than 30 minutes at a time.” According to the study, televisions were present in 44 percent of the centers, and television viewing was observed in 89 percent of these centers where televisions were present. The study notes that “on the day of the observation, 17 percent of the centers allowed children to watch between 31 and 60 minutes of television, and nine percent of the centers allowed children to watch more than 60 minutes of television.” The researchers observed teacher-led play in 70 percent of the child care centers. Outdoor play was observed in the majority of centers. Finally, the study found that 56 percent of the child care centers had written policies on physical activity.
“What happens in child care centers is a very important indicator of preschoolers’ physical activity levels, since children spend on average 25 hours a week in such centers and physical activity protects against obesity during the preschool-age period,” said Christina McWilliams, a research associate at the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and the study’s lead author. “More specific physical activity recommendations for centers will be a positive step in fighting childhood obesity.”
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