Objective: To investigate the association between the child-care environment and physical activity of 2- and 3-year-olds. Based on an ecological view of environmental influences on health behavior, we hypothesized that the social and physical environment, as well as child characteristics (age and gender), would show independent and interactive effects on children's physical activity intensity.
Design: Observations of physical activity intensity were performed among children (N = 175) at 9 Dutch child-care centers. Aspects of the child-care environment were assessed using the validated Environment and Policy Assessment and Observation (EPAO) Instrument. Multilevel linear regression analyses examined the association of environment and child characteristics with children's activity intensity. Moderation was tested by including interaction terms in the analyses, with subsequent post hoc analyses for significant interaction terms.
Main outcome measure: Observed child physical activity intensity, measured with the Observational System for Recording Physical Activity in Children-Preschool Version.
Results: A large proportion of the observed activities were classified as sedentary, while far fewer observations were classified as moderate or vigorous. Activity opportunities in the physical environment (assessed using EPAO) and prompts by staff and peers were significantly and positively related to physical activity intensity, while group size was negatively related to activity intensity. The influence of the physical environment was moderated by social environment (peer group size), while the social environment in turn interacted with child characteristics (age and gender) in determining activity intensity.
Conclusion: Our findings are in line with the ecological perspective regarding environmental influences on behavior, and stress the importance of incorporating the child-care environment in efforts to prevent childhood overweight and obesity.
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