Background: Given the widespread problem of physical inactivity, and the continued growth in prevalence of childhood and adolescent obesity, promotion of regular physical activity (PA) among young people has become a public priority. A greater understanding of children's PA patterns throughout the day is needed to effectively encourage children to be more physically active. Hence this study looking at the distribution of PA in young children throughout the day and its relevance to overweight.
Methods: Accelerometers (ActiGraph GT3X, weartime > 600 min/day, >= 3 days) were used to measure the PA of 958 children (aged 5.7 +/- 0.8 years, 52% boys) enrolled in the GECKO Drenthe cohort. Levels of sedentary time (ST), light PA (LPA) and moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) were recorded throughout the day and analysed in segments (07: 00-09:00, 09:00-12:00, 12:00-15:00, 15:00-18:00, 18:00-21:00). Body mass index was measured by Preventive Child Healthcare nurses and Cole's (2012) definition of overweight was used. General linear mixed models, adjusted for age, sex and season, were used to analyse patterns of PA and ST throughout the day.
Results: Children were most sedentary in the early morning (07:00-09:00) and evening (18:00-21:00), and exhibited the most time spent engaged in LPA and MVPA in the afternoon (12:00-15:00) and late afternoon (15:00-18:00). The greatest inter-individual variation in ST, LPA and MVPA among the children occurred in the late afternoon and evening (approximately 40, 30 and 15 min difference per time segment between 25th and 75th percentile, respectively). The most active children (highest quartile of MVPA) were found to be more active and less sedentary throughout the entire day than the least active children (lowest quartile of MVPA). Furthermore, children with overweight were no less active than children without overweight.
Conclusions: At this young age, the relevance of different PA patterns to childhood overweight was minimal. Children were most active in the afternoon and late afternoon. To encourage PA in general, ST can be reduced and PA increased in the early morning and evening. Targeted PA interventions to specifically stimulate the least active children could take place in the late afternoon or evening.