Background: High levels of sedentary behavior and low physical activity are associated with poor health, and the cognitive determinants of these behaviors in children and adolescents are not well understood. To address this gap, we developed a novel, non-verbal, computer-based assessment to quantify the degree to which youth prefer to be sedentary relative to physically active in their leisure time.
Methods: The Activity Preference Assessment (APA) uses a forced-choice paradigm to understand implicit decision-making processes when presented with common sedentary and physical activities. The APA bias score ranges from - 100 to + 100, with positive scores indicating a relative preference for sedentary activities, and negative scores representing a preference for physical activities. In 60 children ages 8-17 years, we assessed the validity of this behavioral task against a free-choice play observation, accelerometry-measured activity, anthropometrics and body composition, and cardiorespiratory fitness. We explored neighborhood, family, and individual-level factors that may influence implicit activity preferences. Test-retest reliability was assessed over one week.
Results: The majority of children (67%) preferred sedentary relative to physical activities. APA bias scores were positively associated with sedentary time during free-choice play. In girls, bias scores were negatively associated with average daily MVPA. APA bias scores were positively associated with body fat and negatively associated with cardiorespiratory fitness. These findings were independent of age, sex, and race/ethnicity. Neighborhood access to physical activity spaces, the number of people in the home, perceived physical self-competence (e.g., coordination, strength), and self-reported depressive symptoms were associated with activity preferences. The intra-class correlation for test-retest reliability was r = 0.59.
Conclusions: The APA shows promise as a novel tool for quantifying children's relative preference for sedentary versus physical activities. Implicit bias scores from the APA are clinically meaningful, as shown by significant associations with adiposity and cardiorespiratory fitness. Future longitudinal studies should examine the directionality of the association between preferences and health markers, and the degree to which implicit activity preferences are modifiable. Importantly, the task only takes an average of 10 min to complete, highlighting a potential role as an efficient screening tool for the propensity to be sedentary versus physically active.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03624582 .
Keywords: Decision-making; Fitness; Obesity; Pediatrics; Sedentary behavior.