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Sedentary behavior before adolescence may be increasing, according to the results of a longitudinal study reported online December 20 and in the January 2011 print issue of Pediatrics.
“Physical activity is thought to decline during childhood, but the extent of the decline is unknown,” write Laura Basterfield, PhD, from Newcastle University, Leech Building Medical School in Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom, and colleagues. “We made objective measures of 2-year changes in physical activity and sedentary behavior in English children who participated in the Gateshead Millennium Study to explore the nature, timing, and extent of changes in physical activity and sedentary behavior before adolescence.”
The study cohort consisted of 405 children, including 207 girls, aged 7 years who were evaluated at study entry in 2006/2007 and again 24 months later with the Actigraph GT1M accelerometer to measure physical activity and sedentary behavior. In 2010, data were analyzed to determine changes in total volume of physical activity, measured in accelerometer counts per minute; in moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA); and in sedentary behavior. Linear regression allowed determination of factors associated with changes in physical activity and sedentary behavior, and rank-order correlation allowed tracking physical activity and sedentary behavior during the 2-year follow-up period.
At baseline, the percentage of daily time spent in MVPA was low, and it further decreased by 0.3% (interquartile range [IQR], −1.4 to 0.9) in 2 years, whereas the mean daily volume of physical activity decreased by 83 counts per minute (IQR, −189 to 31). Similarly, the percentage of daily time spent in sedentary behavior was high at study entry and increased from 78.0% to 81.1% of the day (change, 3.1%; IQR, −0.3 to 6.0). Girls and participants of both sexes with higher baseline body mass index z scores had significantly greater decrease in MVPA and increase in sedentary behavior. During the 2-year period, there was moderate tracking of physical activity and sedentary behavior.
“We report here new evidence of low and declining levels of physical activity and MVPA and increasing sedentary behaviour before adolescence,” the study authors write. “Strategies to prevent the decline in physical activity should be considered and started for both sexes before adolescence.”
Limitations of this study include the possible lack of generalizability to other settings and samples, some sample attrition from baseline, and a lack of consensus on the appropriate accelerometer cut points to use for children to quantify intensity of physical activity.
“However, taking into account these limitations, the reported findings were consistent with several other recent studies that also used objective methods to measure physical activity,” the study authors conclude. “Longer-term follow-up will be required to investigate the extent to which the patterns observed in the present study are generalizable to other groups of children and to assess whether most of the decline in physical activity that occurs before adulthood occurs before, rather than during, adolescence.”