Young children do follow in their parents’ footsteps. Literally.
That’s the conclusion of NIH-funded researchers who found that in underserved populations, parents’ physical activity—and their sedentary behaviour—directly correlates with the activity level of their preschoolers. Researchers say these findings, published January 9 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, could lead to interventions that focus more on helping parents model—not just encourage—an active lifestyle for their children.
In the U.S., children from low-income and ethnic minority families are more likely to be obese. A 2015 report shows that fewer than half of 2- to 5-year-old children achieve the recommended daily minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. This number is even lower for Latino and African-American children, who are at a higher risk of being overweight or obese.
Researchers funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) collected data from more than one thousand low-income parent-child pairs. About 75% of them were Latino and almost 10% were African American. Each parent and child wore an accelerometer, a device that measures acceleration, for an average of 12 hours a day, for a week. When parents spent up to 40 minutes on moderate to vigorous physical activity, so did their preschoolers. Likewise, the data showed, when the parents were sedentary, so were their children. Notably, this was the first study to link the physical activity of parents and young children by objectively measuring it with accelerometry for an extended period of time.
In addition to NHLBI funding, the study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
(Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, American Journal of Preventive Medicine)