Physical activity and inactivity trajectories associated with body composition in pre-schoolers

Int J Obes (Lond). 2018 Sep;42(9):1621-1630. doi: 10.1038/s41366-018-0058-5. Epub 2018 Mar 15.


Background/objectives: Early childhood is characterised by rapid development and is a critical period for the establishment of activity behaviours. We aim to examine how physical activity (PA) and sedentary behaviour (SB) track during the first 5 years of life, and to investigate associations between trajectories and body composition at 5 years of age.

Subjects/methods: A total of 438 participants (50% male) wore an Actical accelerometer for 5 days at at least two of 1, 2, 3.5 and 5 years of age. Spearman correlation coefficients examined PA tracking from age 1 to 5 and trajectories of PA and SB were estimated using discrete mixture modelling. Regression models tested associations between both PA and SB trajectories and body composition measures.

Results: Tracking coefficients for PA ranged from r = 0.31-0.51 across the ages, with similar tracking observed for sedentary behaviour (r = 0.21-0.39). Four distinct trajectory patterns were identified separately for PA and SB: consistently low, consistently high, increasing and decreasing. BMI and waist circumference were not significantly associated with PA trajectories, but those in the consistently high activity group had significantly lower % body fat (95% CI) at age 5 (14.3%; 13.5, 15.2) than those in the consistently low (16.8%; 15.6, 18.2) or increasing (15.7%; 14.7, 16.7) groups (P = 0.017). Sedentary behaviour trajectories were not associated with any of the anthropometric measures at age 5 (P > 0.05).

Conclusions: Physical activity and sedentary behaviour tracking is broadly similar from infancy to early childhood. Children with consistently higher levels of physical activity have reduced body fat at 5 years of age, although differences are relatively small.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fitness Trackers
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sedentary Behavior*