Always on the move? Measured physical activity of 3-year-old preschool children

M.Sc Anne Soini defends her doctoral dissertation in Health Sciences "Always on the move? Measured physical activity of 3-year-old preschool children". Opponet Professor  Greet Cardon (Ghent University, Belgia) and custos Professor Marita Poskiparta (University of Jyväskylä). The event is in English and takes place Jan 15, 2015.

This study addressed the following research questions: 1) What physical activity (PA) intensity levels and patterns exist among Finnish 3-year-old preschool children (studies I, II)? 2) Are there variations between Finland and the Netherlands in 3-year-old children’s observed PA levels and contexts in childcare (study III)? 3) Are there variations between Finland and Australia in 3-year-old children’s PA intensity levels measured with accelerometers (study IV)? In Finland, 14 childcare centres in the city of Jyväskylä participated in the study. Data were gathered on 96 three-year-old preschool children (48 boys and 48 girls) in autumn 2010, and on 94 children (50 boys and 44 girls) in winter 2011. Data were also gathered on 97 (46 boys and 51 girls) 3-year-olds from nine childcare centres in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and on 64 (33 boys and 31 girls) 3-year-olds from 13 childcare centres in Melbourne, Australia. Children’s PA intensity levels and sedentary time on five consecutive days, including childcare and homecare days was assessed with ActiGraph GT3X accelerometers. The structured Observational System for Recording Physical Activity in Children-Preschool Version (OSRAC-P) of Brown et al. (2006) was used to obtain descriptive information on the context of PA behaviours in childcare settings. Appropriate statistical analyses were performed.

The 3-year-old children spent the major part of their time engaged in sedentary-level activities. During childcare attendance, only 2% of all observations were recorded as moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA). The children were observed, for the most part, in non-solitary play; however, during solitary play they showed higher levels of PA intensity. In autumn, the children were more physically active in the mornings than afternoons. No major differences were observed in PA levels between days or seasons, although levels of outdoor PA were higher in autumn than winter.

The Finnish children spent significantly more time in sedentary-level activities and less time in MVPA than the Dutch children, whereas, during childcare days the Finnish children spent more time in light PA than the Australian children. The childcare setting itself plays an important part in promoting more intensive PA behaviour during early childhood. Throughout the year, children should be encouraged to spend a greater amount of their time playing outdoors, engaged in MVPA-level activities, and to minimize the time spent sitting or engaged in sedentary-level activities. Finnish childcare policy makers should take note of these findings as well as of existing international practices and guidelines that have been demonstrated to be beneficial for children’s PA behaviour and thus also health.

Keywords: physical activity, sedentary time, accelerometer, direct observation, childcare centre

The dissertation is published in the series Studies in Sport, Physical Education and Health, number 216, 131 pp. Jyväskylä 2014/2015, ISSN 0356–1070; 216, ISBN 978–951–39–6028–5, ISBN 978–951–39–6029–2 (PDF). It is available at the University Library’s Publications Unit, ,

Further information:

Anne Soini, tel +358408054801,

Communications officer Anitta Kananen,, tel.