Physical activity and sedentary behavior in early care and education centers: identifying opportunities and testing strategies to support active classroom environments Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
  • Mazzucca, Stephanie
    • Affiliation: Gillings School of Global Public Health, Department of Nutrition
  • Engaging in physical activity and limiting sedentary behavior are important to the optimal physical, psychosocial, and cognitive development in young children. The early care and education (ECE) setting is an important environment to support these behaviors, but few models exist to integrate intervention activities within a typical classroom schedule and support teachers’ professional development on their role in fostering healthy physical activity and sedentary behaviors in preschoolers. To identify opportunities within the classroom schedule that could be leveraged to improve children’s behaviors, secondary data analyses were conducted using a sample of 50 ECE centers that were assessed using four full-day observations and 559 children 3-5 years old within centers who wore accelerometers during observation days. Children were differentially active and sedentary based on typically occurring classroom activities and more active outdoors than indoors. Using self-reported teacher practices and perceptions within the same sample, we identified groupings of items using exploratory factor analysis related to teachers’ 1) physical activity and sedentary practices, 2) self-efficacy, and 3) center-level support. Overall, these factors had inconsistent, weak relationships with children’s MVPA and sedentary behavior. However, two practices (withholding physical activity as punishment and making play equipment available to children) showed significant, positive associations with children’s MVPA and significant, negative associations with children’s sedentary behavior. A 10-week intervention was developed and tested in a group-randomized controlled trial with 26 ECE teachers. Intervention teachers attended professional development workshops and were asked to modify pre-specified classroom activities and their practices. Children’s total physical activity (non-sedentary time) was measured in 182 children via accelerometry. Children in intervention classrooms had a higher total volume of physical activity at follow-up compared to children in the control group (480.2 ± 9.3 vs. 459.7 ± 9.4 counts per minute), but this was not statistically significant. The overall approach was well-received by teachers and could be modified in future interventions. This research provides novel information on patterns throughout the child care day and teacher practices to support children’s physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior, as well as promising intervention models that could be used to increase children’s physical activity and reduce sedentary behavior.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Berry, Diane
  • Evenson, Kelly
  • Tate, Deborah
  • Ward, Dianne
  • Ammerman, Alice
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2017

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