Correlates of Children's Physical Activity: A Canadian Multisite Study

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019 Dec;51(12):2482-2490. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002089.


Purpose: To inform future physical activity (PA) interventions among children, we investigated the correlates of PA among 8- to 12-yr-olds in three regions of Canada: Ottawa, Trois-Rivières, and Vancouver.

Methods: We recruited 1699 children (55.0% girls) in 37 schools located in urban, suburban, and rural areas that differed in socioeconomic status. Children wore a sealed SC-StepRx pedometer capable of measuring moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) for seven consecutive days. Children and one of their parents/guardians completed a questionnaire that captured multiple potential PA correlates. Publicly available data on weather and neighborhood walkability were obtained. Multiply-imputed gender-stratified linear mixed models were used to examine the correlates of daily step counts and MVPA while controlling for age, site, type of urbanization, and area-level socioeconomic status.

Results: Each additional hour spent outdoors was associated with higher PA in boys (+769 steps per day; +3.7 min MVPA per day) and girls (+596 steps per day; +3.5 min·d). Boys' PA declined with age (-500 steps per day; -3.7 min·d). Boys were less active if they had a long-standing injury/illness (-1862 steps per day; -3.7 min·d) or their parents reported driving to work (-835 steps per day; -4.4 min·d), were worried about traffic (-982 steps per day; -6.4 min·d), or about other people in their neighborhood (-1250 steps per day). Girls speaking neither English nor French at home were less active (-620 steps per day; -3.7 min·d). In girls, each degree Celsius increase in morning temperature was associated with 77 additional steps per day, and each kilometer increase in active school travel distance was associated with 0.5 more MVPA minutes per day.

Conclusion: Consistent with previous studies, our results suggest that PA interventions should aim to increase outdoor time. The observed gender differences in PA correlates suggest the need for a gender-sensitized approach to PA promotion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Accelerometry
  • Age Factors
  • Canada
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Occupations
  • Parents / psychology
  • Perception
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Rural Population
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Suburban Population
  • Urban Population
  • Weather