Background: With increased numbers of children attending child care, this setting presents an ideal opportunity to promote physical activity and the early development of healthy behaviors. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships between the childcare environment and physical activity behavior of preschool children.
Methods: Aspects of the environment hypothesized to influence children's physical activity were assessed in 20 childcare centers using the Environment and Policy Assessment and Observation (EPAO) instrument. Physical activity behavior was assessed over 2 days using direct observation.
Results: Children in centers with supportive environments achieved more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (15% of observations vs 9%; effect size [ES]=1.17), spent less time in sedentary activities (50% vs 61%; ES=-1.52), and had higher mean physical activity levels (2.68 vs 2.43; ES=1.41) compared to centers with less supportive environments. Facets of the physical and social environment related to physical activity behavior included active opportunities, portable play equipment, fixed play equipment, sedentary environment, and physical activity training and education.
Conclusions: Previous research indicates that the childcare center that children attend significantly affects physical activity behavior. The current findings extend this evidence by identifying aspects of the childcare environment that relate to the physical activity behavior of children. These factors should be considered when identifying determinants of physical activity and designing interventions.