Objectively measured physical activity and sedentary time during childhood, adolescence and young adulthood: a cohort study

PLoS One. 2013 Apr 23;8(4):e60871. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060871. Print 2013.


Background: To know how moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and sedentary time change across lifespan periods is needed for designing successful lifestyle interventions. We aimed to study changes in objectively measured (accelerometry) MVPA and sedentary time from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to young adulthood.

Methods: Estonian and Swedish participants from the European Youth Heart Study aged 9 and 15 years at baseline (N = 2312) were asked to participate in a second examination 6 (Sweden) to 9/10 (Estonia) years later. 1800 participants with valid accelerometer data were analyzed.

Results: MVPA decreased from childhood to adolescence (-1 to -2.5 min/d per year of follow-up, P = 0.01 and <0.001, for girls and boys respectively) and also from adolescence to young adulthood (-0.8 to -2.2 min/d per year, P = 0.02 and <0.001 for girls and boys, respectively). Sedentary time increased from childhood to adolescence (+15 and +20 min/d per year, for girls and boys respectively, P<0.001), with no substantial change from adolescence to young adulthood. Changes in both MVPA and sedentary time were greater in Swedish than in Estonian participants and in boys than in girls. The magnitude of the change observed in sedentary time was 3-6 time larger than the change observed in MVPA.

Conclusions: The decline in MVPA (overall change = 30 min/d) and increase sedentary time (overall change = 2:45 h/d) observed from childhood to adolescence are of concern and might increase the risk of developing obesity and other chronic diseases later in life. These findings substantially contribute to understand how key health-related behaviors (physical activity and sedentary) change across important periods of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry*
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Estonia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical
  • Motor Activity*
  • Sedentary Behavior*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Time Factors

Grant support

This study was also supported by grants from the Estonian Ministry of Education and Science (No 0180027 and 0942706) and the Estonian Science Foundation (No 6932 and 6788). The study was supported by grants from the Stockholm County Council. This study is also being supported by grants from Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (RYC-2010-05957; RYC-2011-09011). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.