A birth of inactivity? A review of physical activity and parenthood

Prev Med. 2008 Feb;46(2):99-110. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2007.08.003. Epub 2007 Aug 15.


Objective: To review the existing research on physical activity and parenthood in order to establish direction for future research.

Method: Articles were limited to English peer-reviewed journals, published from 1989 to 2007. Major findings from 25 independent samples were summarized based on common subtopics of: physical activity of parents compared to non-parents, physical activity barriers, employment and marital status, number of children, and theory-based work applied to parents.

Results: Parenthood and physical activity involvement showed a negative relationship (meta-analytic d=0.41 to 0.48, correcting for sampling error) when compared to non-parents. Mothers were generally less active than fathers. Associations were found between specific barriers and parental physical activity, but the relationship between physical activity and marital/employment status as well as number/age of children was inconsistent. Finally, the use of theoretical models applied to understanding early family development and physical activity has been limited.

Conclusions: Parents with dependent children are clearly more inactive than non-parents and the topic has received disproportionably scant research considering the size of the effect. Current research has largely been focused on mothers, and has relied heavily on cross-sectional designs and self-report measures. Future work should focus on longitudinal designs across family development, gender and role interactions, and include social ecological frameworks and objective physical activity measurement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Employment
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents*
  • Sex Factors