Barriers to Physical Activity in Child Care Centers Identified

A new study on outdoor physical activity in preschool children identified some unexpected barriers. “It’s things we never expected, from flip flops, mulch near the playground, children who come to child care without a coat on chilly days, to teachers talking or texting on cell phones while they were supposed to be supervising the children,” according to Kristen Copeland, M.D., lead author of the study which was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. She noted that because there are so many benefits of physical activity for children – from prevention of obesity, to better concentration and development of gross motor skills – it’s important to know what barriers to physical activity may exist at child-care centers. Approximately 56% of 3-6 year olds spend time in preschools and child care centers.

“We found several previously unreported barriers that meant kids had to stay inside, including inappropriate footwear such as flip flops and inappropriate clothing for the weather,” said Dr. Copeland. In some child care centers, if one child in the group shows up without a coat on a chilly day, she noted, that means the whole group has to stay inside. Even more surprising to the researchers was the fact that the child-care staff members said some parents appear to intentionally keep their children’s coats (or send children without coats) so they’d have to stay inside, which staff attributed to parents’ concerns about the child getting injured or dirty, or a having a cold that may be exacerbated by cold weather. Just as in the case of barrier to physical activity in school age children, preschool teachers also reported pressure to teach students "academics" was interfering as well.

"Playground surfacing or 'mulch' was also a concern of day care staff” said Dr. Copeland. “Many said that the kids eat the mulch, or use it as weapons, or it gets caught in their shoes. It also requires constant upkeep. It’s certainly not something that we had anticipated as an issue, but judging by the amount of and intensity of the discussions among child care teachers, it really is.”

The study presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Honolulu, Hawaii on May 5, was conducted at 34 child care centers in Cincinnati.

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