A Comparison of Preschoolers' Physical Activity Indoors versus Outdoors at Child Care

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Nov 5;15(11):2463. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15112463.


The aims of this study were to quantify and examine differences in preschoolers' indoor and outdoor sedentary time and physical activity intensity at child care using GPS devices and accelerometers. We conducted an observational study of 46 children (mean age 4.5 years, 30 boys, 16 girls) from five child care centers who wore accelerometers and GPS devices around their waists for five days during regular child care hours. GPS signal-to-noise ratios were used to determine indoor vs. outdoor location. Accelerometer data were categorized by activity intensity. Children spent, on average, 24% of child care time outdoors (range 12⁻37% by site), averaging 74 min daily outdoors (range 30⁻119 min), with 54% of children spending ≥60 min/day outdoors. Mean accelerometer activity counts were more than twice as high outdoors compared to indoors (345 (95) vs. 159 (38), (p < 0.001)), for girls and boys. Children were significantly less sedentary (51% of time vs. 75%) and engaging in more light (18% vs. 13%) and moderate-to-vigorous (MVPA) (31% vs. 12%) activity when outdoors compared to indoors (p < 0.001). To achieve a minute of MVPA, a preschooler needed to spend 9.1 min indoors vs. 3.8 min outdoors. Every additional 10 min outdoors each day was associated with a 2.9 min increase in MVPA (2.7 min for girls, 3.0 min for boys). Preschool-age children are twice as active and less sedentary when outdoors compared to indoors in child care settings. To help preschoolers achieve MVPA recommendations and likely attain other benefits, one strategy is to increase the amount of time they spend outdoors and further study how best to structure it.

Keywords: GPS; childhood obesity; daycare; outdoor play; sedentary behavior.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry
  • Child Day Care Centers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Health
  • Child, Preschool
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Washington