Preschoolers' physical activity, screen time, and compliance with recommendations

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Mar;44(3):458-65. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318233763b.


Purpose: Little evidence exists about the prevalence of adequate levels of physical activity and of appropriate screen-based entertainment in preschool children. Previous studies have generally relied on small samples. This study investigates how much time preschool children spend being physically active and engaged in screen-based entertainment. The study also reports compliance with the recently released Australian recommendations for physical activity (≥3 h·d(-1)) and screen entertainment (≤1 h·d(-1)) and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education physical activity guidelines (≥2 h·d(-1)) and American Academy of Pediatrics screen-based entertainment recommendations (≤2 h·d(-1)) in a large sample of preschool children.

Methods: Participants were 1004 Melbourne preschool children (mean age = 4.5 yr, range = 3-5 yr) and their families in the Healthy Active Preschool Years study. Physical activity data were collected by accelerometry during an 8-d period. Parents reported their child's television/video/DVD viewing, computer/Internet, and electronic game use during a typical week. A total of 703 (70%) had sufficient accelerometry data, and 935 children (93%) had useable data on time spent in screen-based entertainment.

Results: Children spent 16% (approximately 127 min·d(-1)) of their time being physically active. Boys and younger children were more active than were girls and older children, respectively. Children spent an average of 113 min·d(-1) in screen-based entertainment. Virtually no children (<1%) met both the Australian recommendations and 32% met both the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.

Conclusions: The majority of young children are not participating in adequate amounts of physical activity and in excessive amounts of screen-based entertainment. It is likely that physical activity may decline and that screen-based entertainment may increase with age. Compliance with recommendations may be further reduced. Strategies to promote physical activity and reduce screen-based entertainment in young children are required.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Child, Preschool
  • Computers*
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory
  • Motor Activity*
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Television*
  • Time Factors
  • Video Games*