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Active Voice: Children Spend Most of their Time in Sedentary Behavior

from By Jonathan A. Mitchell, Ph.D.

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Jonathan A. Mitchell, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. He is funded on a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award. His research focus includes sedentary behavior epidemiology. He is particularly interested in studying the amounts of time youth spend in sedentary behavior and if high levels of sedentary behavior are independently associated with health outcomes. In the June issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® (MSSE), he and his co-investigators presented findings of a prospective study of sedentary behavior patterns and socioeconomic correlates in children ages 12-16.

Being physically active is beneficial to children’s health and development, and children are recommended to spend at least one hour per day in moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA). However, consider a hypothetical child who meets this guideline and sleeps for nine hours per day. This child has 14 waking hours remaining in his/her day that could be spent in either light-intensity physical activity or sedentary behavior. Few research studies have quantified the time children spend in sedentary behavior during their waking hours and this served as motivation for our recent study, published in MSSE, which describes levels of sedentary behavior in a cohort of children at ages 12, 14 and 16. The children wore activity monitors at each age for one week, except when they were asleep or when they were participating in water activities (bathing or swimming). We found that the children at age 12 spent approximately 54% of their monitored time in sedentary behavior, and this increased to approximately 65% of their monitored time at age 16. We also found that the children experienced fewer breaks in their sedentary behavior from age 12 to 16. To accommodate the increase in sedentary behavior, we found that time spent in light-intensity physical activity decreased from age 12 to 16 (with little to no change in MVPA). more

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