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BACKGROUND: A number of studies have suggested that there is a need to increase the physical activity levels of children. Parents are important influences on children's behaviour. There is a lack of information about whether there are associations between the physical activity levels of young children and their parents. The current study examined the associations between the physical activity (PA) of parents and their children at age five to six years old, and determined whether any associations differed by child or parent gender or between week and weekend days.
METHODS: Cross-sectional study, with 1267 Year 1 pupils (five to six years of age) and at least one parent from 57 primary schools. Children and parents wore an accelerometer for five days and mean minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) per day were derived. We used multivariable linear regression to investigate whether parental and child time spent in MVPA was associated with each other. Each model was adjusted for age, child gender, parent BMI and neighbourhood deprivation with subgroup analysis by child gender.
RESULTS: 80% of parents met PA guidelines, however 29% of boys and 47% of girls aged five to six years failed to meet them. Fully-adjusted analyses suggested weak positive associations of parent's and children's time spent in MVPA. Every 10 additional minutes of parental MVPA were associated with one additional minute of child MVPA. There was no evidence of a difference in associations for boys and girls or between mothers and fathers.
CONCLUSIONS: 29% of boys and 47% of girls aged five to six years did not meet PA guidelines indicating that these children would benefit from new approaches that focus on increasing physical activity. There were weak associations between the MVPA of 5-6 year old children and their parents, demonstrating that the time that children are active with their parents is not a major source of physical activity. Clinicians and public health professionals should encourage parents to create opportunities for their children to be active.