Physical activity is a much smaller priority among youth in America and other countries, including the UK (Brockman et al., 2010). These habits of a sedentary lifestyle most often translate into inactivity as an adult as well, increasing the risk of mortality and disease (Gustafson and Rhodes, 2006). Obesity and cardiovascular disease is often linked to inactivity in children, causing significant health problems for youth around the world (Cleland and Venn, 2010). More successful interventions promoting physical activity in youth must be found and implemented if youth health is to be improved.
Active play is one method in which physical activity can be inserted into the lives of young children in primary and elementary schools (Brockman et al., 2010). Active play is the involvement of physical activity in the recreational activities of young children, typically in groups with one another, often outside in a playground environment. Previous studies have concluded that promoting active play among children increases their physical activity levels, as well as their level of intensity, to a health-enhancing level (Brockman et al., 2010).
Parental influences carry a great deal of sway in the activities of children, and the level at which they are physically fit (Gustafson and Rhodes, 2006). There are a great many different kinds of parenting styles, some of which promote physical activity more than others - maternal permissive parenting can provide more physical activity motivation than an authoritarian parenting style (Jago et al., 2011). While there are mixed correlations between physical activity of parents and of children, there is a strong correlation between children's physical activity and the level of parental support they receive for such activities. One large correlate exists between parental support and youth physical activity in both indirect and direct ways, making these pursuits more self-efficable (Trost et al., 2003). This makes parental involvement in the physical fitness of their child of paramount importance.
One vital factor to determining parental influences is to dictate influences of both parental physical activity and parental instrumental support; learning exactly how they can affect a child's motivation to perform physical activities can help to determine what interventions would be most effective. Trost et al. (2003) determined that there is a great connection between the two concepts of parental support and physical activity, but are as yet unsure what causes the change in child behavior. The opposite is also true, in that parents can often actively restrict the child's behavior if they perceive a risk to the child's health (Carver et al., 2010). Parents who are overprotective of their children can, often, restrict their physical activity and active transport in order to prevent them from incurring harm; however, this also extremely limits their opportunities for active play.
The 'displacement theory' is an important one to consider when contemplating possible solutions for solving the problem of physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. This theory posits that time spent in sedentary activities displaces time potentially allocated to physical activities and actions pertaining towards a healthy, active lifestyle (Cleland and Venn, 2010). The overall purpose of initiating interventions such as active play is to decrease the number of active time 'displaced' by sedentary activities, thus creating the potential for increased physical fitness.
More than just the parents, the entire social and physical environment of the child must be weighed before determining what affects physical activity. According to Gubbels et al. (2010), size of peer group can dramatically affect incentives toward physical activity, with the higher number of people creating a greater chance for physical activities to occur. The proximity of the child to physical environments with activity opportunities (hills, rocks, etc.) also increases physical activity and intensity (Gubbels et al., 2010). Other authority figures, such as teachers, are also meant to play a significant role in the physical activity opportunities presented to children; they can create opportunities and campaigns for promoting large-scale physical activity at school and other extracurricular activities (Cox et al., 2010).
Given the role of parents, teachers and social and physical environments, it is necessary to improve the motivation and opportunities for physical activity in children. This type of intervention would promote greater health and prevent obesity in a great many youth. However, more research is required in order to gain a better picture of the various ways in which young people receive their physical activity. In this study, the IPAQ is used on a sample in order to gauge their physical activity levels in a variety of situations and contexts, with the purpose of fostering further understanding regarding what drives many to exercise.
The participants are a group of 341 university students who are enrolled in an early childhood health course. This sample was randomly selected and stratified only based on their enrollment in the course. Of the 341 questionnaires submitted, three were taken out of the process for potential obfuscation of facts (e.g. giving obviously false answers, such as 0 for all physical activity questions). Most of the participants were female, with the age range averaging from 22 to 45.
Instrument and Procedures
The International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) was used as the primary instrument for this study. It was created in 2000 and verified to be an acceptable measurement for physical activity on a global scale, especially as pertains to large prevalence studies of this subject (Booth, 2001). The version of the IPAQ used was the English, long-form version for self-administration. The IPAQ consists of a set of four questionnaires; the long version includes 5 activity domains, which are independently asked of the survey-taker. These activity domains include job related physical activity, transportation physical activity, housework/house maintenance, recreation/sport, and time spent sitting (Booth, 2001). Administration and submitting of the IPAQ occurred online, through the SurveyMonkey online survey service; participants were asked to answer questions based on the last 7 days of physical activity.
After all questionnaires were collected, scoring of the results took place. Physical activity indicated through the results of questions answered in the IPAQ were determined to be either high-level, moderate level, or low-level. The criteria for these levels were number of metabolic equivalent (MET) minutes for activity time and duration. For high-level classification, Category 3b criteria was used (i.e. 3000 MET-minutes and at least 7 days of activity). Moderate level classification occurred through Category 2f criteria (i.e. at least 600 MET-minutes and f days). Low-level classification used Category 1 criteria.
Once the questionnaires were collected, scoring occurred based on the criteria previously identified, with activity levels segmented into three groups. Dividing the participants into high, moderate and low levels of physical activity yielded the following results:
Table 1 - Participant Activity Levels
More than half the participants in the sample had a moderate level of physical activity, and nearly 90% of the participants had a moderate-to-high level of physical activity. The lowest MET-minutes per week encountered was 37.1; the highest MET level was 28,266. The average participant recorded 3030.8 MET minutes per week, but the median score was 2,221.25. 9.76% of participants performed a low level of physical activity, with much of their activity falling into the 'time spent sitting' category.
Over three-quarters of the participants are employed and have a job (78.7%); 43.3% of participants do not perform vigorous physical activities over the course of their work. Of that remaining percentage, 24.6% had not performed moderate physical activity in their place of work; around the same percentage had not walked for at least ten minutes for their work. Instead, 68.4% of participants took some sort of transit for transport, including busses, cars and trams. 86.3% of participants do not ride a bicycle whatsoever to work. 23.4% of participants walked short distances for at least ten minutes every day in the sample week. 70.8% of participants did not engage in any vigorous physical activity at all over the course of the week, 21.4% performed no moderate activities either. 18.6% of participants performed moderate activities during the week pertaining to cleaning up the home. Participants who did no walking in their leisure time numbered at around 28.6%. Vigorous sports and recreation activities were not performed at all by 47.8% of the participants surveyed; moderate sports was not engaged in by 86.9%.
The 'time spent sitting' section ran concurrent to the physical activity questions; it follows the aforementioned notion of displacement, meaning active time replaced with time spent sitting. The participants sat over a 7 day period for either as little as 86 minutes, or as many as 9.840 minutes. The average participant say for 2.075.56 minutes over the period of the survey. The median 7 day time spent sitting was 1,830 minutes.
The overall goal of the study was to learn whether or not students taking an early childhood health course were engaging in healthy physical activity patterns that could be emulated by children. The primary purpose of the early childhood course was intended for potential teachers of young children; previous research shows that these teachers have a strong pull on the motivations and drive of children and their activities. This attachment and emulation extends to physical activity as well; teachers and parents are in a unique position to set guidelines and establish patterns of behavior for children. While support is almost unilaterally accepted as helpful to facilitate increased physical activity in children, our hypothesis deals with whether actual physical activity patterns in teachers and education professionals would affect the patterns of the children under their care.
The results of particular questions have unique significance to the levels of active play people receive over the course of their lives; many of the questions are typically geared towards work-related physical activity. In these results, both vigorous and moderate activities are answered by many participants as not being performed at all over the seven day period. The amount of traveling done, whether it is to a commute or some other destination, is a factor - as well as how physically taxing it may be. Most participants ride in automatic vehicles like a car or train to get where they need to do, eschewing physically-powered machines like bicycles. However, they do perform a moderate amount of running.
Children often have a role in caring for the house, taking care of home maintenance, cleaning up their room, etc. This can be one aspect of physical activity that can be modeled after and encouraged by parents and teachers. According to the results of the IPAC, however, many of the participants do not engage in vigorous physical activity (including heavy lifting, shoveling snow and chopping wood), though they do more or less engage equally in some moderate activities for home maintenance. The notion of active play involves recreational activities like sports in the playground; important precedents could be set by teachers and parents in order to facilitate this activity. In terms of sport and recreation, nearly half of all participants do not engage in either vigorous or moderate physical sports activities, including riding a bike, regularly swimming, and others.
The evaluation of these results leads to the conclusion that a sample of potential early childhood educators do not follow proper physical activity guidelines. Given the possible correlation between actual physical activity of teachers and physical activity of students, it is clear that fitness intervention of some kind must be made in order to facilitate more healthy habits in teachers and parents. Due to the fact that important role models for physical fitness must be presented to children in the form of parents and teachers, the low levels of physical activity in these participants even around the house, much less in a sports and recreation context, are unacceptable. Further research must be performed in order to determine possible interventions for improving teacher physical activity levels, and by extension the levels of the physical activity and fitness of children.
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