School & District Management

Physical Activity More Key to Children’s Health Than Cutting Seat Time

By Gina Cairney — April 29, 2013 2 min read
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While physical activity of moderate intensity has an impact on childhood cardiometabolic health—the combined impact of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease—researchers in Canada found that certain sedentary activities may have a greater negative impact on overall health in children than others.

Published in the April issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, the researchers discovered that when comparing sedentary activities, the amount of TV screen time children get may have a worse effect on their health than the overall time they spend being sedentary.

The study suggests that, “time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) appears more important than time spent in sedentary activities,” Dr. Jean-Philippe Chaput, the study’s first author and researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute said in a statement.

The quantity of MVPA and sedentary time of over 500 Canadian children ages 8 to 10 were observed over seven days with the use of an accelerometer to study movement and the effects of each lifestyle on the cardiometabolic health of children. TV screen time over the seven days was self reported by the child, according to the statement.

Researchers measured six cardiometabolic indicators including the child’s waist circumference, fasting glucose, fasting triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and resting systolic and diastolic blood pressure, all of which can be risk factors of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Of the children who participated in the study, about 25 percent met the recommended physical activity participation of at least 60 minutes of MVPA per day. Based on self-reported data, 40 percent of the participating children met the TV screen time use of two hours or less per day.

The study found that higher levels of MVPA were associated with lower measurements of waist circumference and diastolic blood pressure.

However, researchers also found no significant difference in cardiometabolic risk factors between children who participated in high versus low amounts of sedentary time for the same amount of time spent in MVPA.

These findings, according to the study, show that MVPA may be more key to reducing cardiometabolic risk factors than sedentary time, with daily TV screen time identified as having the greatest impact on cardiometabolic risk.

The authors of the study suggest future studies examine how best to increase MVPA in young people, while addressing possible barriers that exist to healthy lifestyles. They also emphasized the importance of public health education, and creating policies aimed at improving overall health of children.

“Increasing children’s participation in physical activity AND reducing their screen-related sedentary time are important public health targets to achieve,” Dr. Chaput said.

To reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in children “being physically active throughout the day is probably more important than limiting sitting time,” he said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.