Past studies have identified built and social environmental factors as important determinants of physical activity (PA) in school children. While preventive actions might be most effective if implemented early in life, little is known about associations between environmental factors and PA in preschool age. Our study seeks to fill this gap.
Cross-sectional data of 1134 children in 52 preschools in South Germany were collected between 2008–2009. Minutes spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during waking time (MVPA, outcome) were measured by accelerometry and heart rate monitoring (Actiheart). The built and social environment was quantified by 1) subjective parental perception, 2) objective information e.g. on the distance to local infrastructure 3) family social context and 4) county-level data on socioeconomic indicators (INKAR 2013). Associations with objectively measured MVPA were tested by covariate-adjusted linear multilevel regression (conducted in 2015).
737 preschoolers (mean age: 4.81 yrs, males 50%) with complete data were included in the analyses. Besides significant point estimates for gender and age, covariate-adjusted multi-level models showed that childrens’ MVPA during weekends was positively associated with parental levels of leisure-time PA (beta=1.83, p < 0.05) and childrens’ regular participation in organized sports activities (beta = 2.04, p < 0.05), but NOT with any built or objective environmental factors. Parental perception of environmental safety with regards to traffic showed a trend to significance (beta = 3.32, p = 0.059). Results did not change with exclusion of sports participation as a potential proxy of MVPA.
Social environmental factors such as positive parental role models and perceived environmental safety are more important correlates of preschoolers’ leisure-time MVPA than any built covariates. PA interventions in preschoolers should specifically target these factors.
Social environmental factors as well as parental lifestyle and perceptions are more important determinants of preschoolers’ physical activity than built environmental factors
In order to increase physical activity levels of preschoolers public health interventions should explicitely target these factors