Parents -- not TV -- may determine whether kids are active or couch potatoes

June 21, 2012

Researchers at Oregon State University have confirmed what we knew all along – children in this country are increasingly sedentary, spending too much time sitting and looking at electronic screens.

But it's not necessarily because of the newest gee-whiz gadgets – play a major factor in whether young children are on the move.

In two studies out online today in a special issue of the journal Early Child Development and Care devoted to "Parental Influences of Childhood Obesity," OSU researchers examined how parenting style – whether a strict but loving parent or a less-involved and more permissive parent – was associated with sedentary behavior.

Overall, they found that children who had "neglectful" parents, or ones who weren't home often and self-reported spending less time with their , were getting 30 minutes more screen time on an average each week day.

More disturbing to lead author David Schary – all of the children ages 2 to 4 were sitting more than several hours per day.

"Across all parenting styles, we saw anywhere from four to five hours a day of sedentary activity," he said. "This is waking hours not including naps or feeding. Some parents counted quiet play – sitting and coloring, working on a puzzle, etc. – as a positive activity, but this is an age where movement is essential."

Schary, a doctoral student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU, said parents were grouped into four commonly used scientific categories – authoritarian (high warmth and control), authoritative (controlling, less warm), permissive (warm, low control), and neglectful (low control and warmth).

While all the children in the sample of about 200 families were sitting four to five hours in a typical day, parents in the more neglectful category had children who were spending up to 30 additional minutes a day watching television, playing a video game or being engaged in some other form of "screen time."

"A half an hour each day may not seem like much, but add that up over a week, then a month, and then a year and you have a big impact," Schary said. "One child may be getting up to four hours more active play every week, and this sets the stage for the rest of their life."

Some might wonder whether parents who were less participatory during the week days made up for it during the weekends. Actually, just the opposite happened. Sedentary time increased nearly one hour each weekend day.

Bradley Cardinal, a professor of social psychology of physical activity at OSU, co-authored both papers with Schary. Cardinal said sedentary behavior goes against the natural tendencies of most preschool-age children.

"Toddlers and preschool-age children are spontaneous movers, so it is natural for them to have bursts of activity many minutes per hour," he said. "We find that when kids enter school, their levels of physical activity decrease and overall, it continues to decline throughout their life. Early life movement is imperative for establishing healthy, active lifestyle patterns, self-awareness, social acceptance, and even brain and cognitive development."

In a separate study, Schary and Cardinal looked at the same group of participants and asked about ways parent support and promote active play. They found that parents who actively played with their kids had the most impact, but that any level of encouragement, even just watching their child play or driving them to an activity – made a difference.

"When children are very young, playing is the main thing they do during waking hours, so parental support and encouragement is crucial," Schary said. "So when we see preschool children not going outside much and sitting while playing with a cell phone or watching TV, we need to help parents counteract that behavior."

Explore further: To fight obesity, even babies should exercise

Related Stories

To fight obesity, even babies should exercise

July 11, 2011
(AP) -- Preschoolers, even babies, need daily exercise, the British government says in its first-ever exercise advice for its youngest citizens.

Parents important in steering kids away from sedentary activities

April 30, 2012
Parents can have a significant impact in steering young children away from too much time spent in sedentary pursuits. This new study, in the American Journal of Health Promotion, found this effect in Hispanic families, whose ...

Kids' 'screen time' linked to early markers for cardiovascular disease

April 20, 2011
Six-year-olds who spent the most time watching television, using a computer or playing video games had narrower arteries in the back of their eyes — a marker of future cardiovascular risk, in a first-of-its-kind study ...

Get them while they are young, call for closer examination of preschooler physical activity levels

February 20, 2012
Australian researchers need to investigate the specific physical activity levels required by preschoolers to encourage better exercise habits later in life, academics argue.

Recommended for you

Engineered protein treatment found to reduce obesity in mice, rats and primates

October 19, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with pharmaceutical company Amgen Inc. report that an engineered version of a protein naturally found in the body caused test mice, rats and cynomolgus monkeys to lose weight. In their ...

Nearly 4 in 10 U.S. adults now obese (Update)

October 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—Almost forty percent adults in the United States are now obese, continuing an ever-expanding epidemic of obesity that's expected to lead to sicker Americans and higher health care costs.

Tenfold increase in childhood and adolescent obesity in four decades, new study finds

October 10, 2017
The number of obese children and adolescents (aged 5 to 19 years) worldwide has risen tenfold in the past four decades, according to a new study led by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization (WHO). If current ...

Working night shifts may widen your waistline

October 4, 2017
(HealthDay)—Workers who regularly pull overnight shifts may be more prone to pack on the pounds, a new analysis suggests.

Weight loss for adults at any age leads to cost savings, study suggests

September 26, 2017
Helping an adult lose weight leads to significant cost savings at any age, with those savings peaking at age 50, suggests a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study.

U.S. pays a hefty price for obesity

September 26, 2017
(HealthDay)—A U.S. adult who is "healthy" but obese could eventually cost society tens of thousands of dollars in medical care and lost wages, a new study estimates.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.