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A prospective examination of children's time spent outdoors, objectively measured physical activity and overweight


Objective: This study aimed to determine whether time spent outdoors was associated with objectively measured physical activity, body mass index (BMI) z-score and overweight in elementary-school aged children, cross-sectionally and prospectively over 3 years.

Methods: Three-year cohort study with data collected during 2001 and 2004. Nineteen randomly selected state elementary schools across Melbourne, Australia. One hundred and eighty eight 5–6-year-old and 360 10–12-year-old children. Baseline parent reports of children's time spent outdoors during warmer and cooler months, on weekdays and weekends. At baseline and follow-up, children's moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA) was objectively assessed by accelerometry, and BMI z-score and overweight was calculated from measured height and weight.

Results: Cross-sectionally, each additional hour outdoors on weekdays and weekend days during the cooler months was associated with an extra 27 min week−1 MVPA among older girls, and with an extra 20 min week−1 MVPA among older boys. Longitudinally, more time outdoors on weekends predicted higher MVPA on weekends among older girls and boys (5 min week−1). The prevalence of overweight among older children at follow-up was 27–41% lower among those spending more time outdoors at baseline.

Conclusion: Encouraging 10–12-year-old children to spend more time outdoors may be an effective strategy for increasing physical activity and preventing increases in overweight and obesity. Intervention research investigating the effect of increasing time outdoors on children's physical activity and overweight is warranted.

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This research was supported by grants from the Financial Markets Foundation for Children and the National Health and Medical Research Council. David Crawford and Anna Timperio are supported by Public Health Research Fellowships from the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. Jo Salmon was supported by a National Heart Foundation of Australia Career Development Award. Verity Cleland had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. We acknowledge Michelle Jackson and Sophie Thal-Janzen for coordinating follow-up data collection.

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Cleland, V., Crawford, D., Baur, L. et al. A prospective examination of children's time spent outdoors, objectively measured physical activity and overweight. Int J Obes 32, 1685–1693 (2008).

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  • youth
  • physical activity
  • overweight
  • longitudinal
  • accelerometer

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