Parents, not TV, determine if kids are couch potatoes

June 27, 2012

Image: istockphoto

In two studies published in a special issue of the journal Early Child Development and Care devoted to “Parental Influences of Childhood Obesity”, researchers examine how parenting style – whether a strict but loving parent or a less-involved and more permissive parent – was associated with sedentary behaviour.

Overall, they found that children who had “neglectful” parents, or ones who weren’t home often and self-reported spending less time with their kids, were getting 30 minutes more screen time on an average week day.

“A half hour each day may not seem like much, but add that up over a week, then a month, and then a year and you have a big impact,” says lead author David Schary. “One child may be getting up to four hours more active play every week, and this sets the stage for the rest of their life.”

Some might wonder whether parents who were less participatory during the week days made up for it during the weekends. Actually, just the opposite happened. Sedentary time increased nearly one hour each weekend day.

Bradley Cardinal, who co-authored both papers with Schary and Paul Loprinzi, says sedentary behaviour goes against the natural tendencies of most preschool-age children.

“Toddlers and preschool-age children are spontaneous movers, so it is natural for them to have bursts of activity many minutes per hour,” he said. “We find that when kids enter school, their levels of physical activity decrease and overall, it continues to decline throughout their life. Early life involvement is imperative for establishing healthy, active lifestyles, self-awareness, social acceptance, and even brain and cognitive development.”

In their second study, it was also found that parents who actively played with their kids had the most impact, but that any level of encouragement, even just watching their child play, made a difference.

“When children are very young, playing is the main thing they do during waking hours, so parental support and encouragement is crucial,” Schary said. “So when we see preschool children not going outside much and sitting while playing… we need to help parents counteract that behaviour.”

Both these studies were published in Early Child Development and Care 182:8 (2012), and are now available to read online:

Parenting style associated with sedentary behaviour in preschool children

David P. Schary, Bradley J. Cardinal & Paul D. Loprinzi

Parental support exceeds parenting style for promoting active play in preschool children

David P. Schary, Bradley J. Cardinal & Paul D. Loprinzi
The entire special issue contents can be found at

Taylor and Francis

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