Minimizing sedentary behavior, in particular screen-based sedentary behavior, during the early years is important for healthy growth and development. Consequently, new Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years (aged 0-4 years) were recently released. Researchers are unclear what messages should supplement the guidelines when disseminating them to parents and when using the guidelines in behaviour-change interventions to increase adoption. The objective of this study was to qualitatively examine parents’ perceptions of the new Canadian Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for the Early Years.
Parents with a child <=4 years who attended a child care centre were purposefully recruited from child care centres. A total of 7 semi-structured focus groups with 2 to 5 parents were conducted from August to November, 2013 by a trained and experienced moderator. Participants were asked a series of open-ended questions pertaining to the sedentary behaviour guidelines information sheet. Initial themes were identified followed by further review and analysis.
For the most part parents thought the guidelines were clear and did not disagree with the recommendations per se. However, some confusion arose around the value of some sedentary activities, such as reading and coloring, for social and cognitive development. Many parents described feeling guilty after reading the guidelines and perceived several barriers in meeting the daily recommendations. Common barriers included the need to balance multiple demands of family life, the prevalence and accessibility of screen technology, and the weather and built environment where families live. Parents expressed the importance of communicating the guidelines early enough for good habits to be established and the need for realistic strategies and ideas to help them meet the recommendations.
Overall the findings indicate that gain-framed messages around the role of screen-based and non-screen-based sedentary behavior for children’s cognitive and social development might be most effective for adoption of the guidelines. Furthermore, providing parents the guidelines early with resources for minimizing sedentary behavior should also be considered. Future research is needed in other demographic groups of parents to confirm these findings.