Too hot to move? Objectively assessed seasonal changes in Australian children’s physical activity

Background:
Seasonal variations may influence children’s physical activity patterns. The aim of this study was to examine how children’s objectively-measured physical activity differed across seasons, and whether different seasonal patterns were observed for boys and girls.
Methods:
Three hundred and twenty-six children aged 8–11 years from nine primary schools in Melbourne, Australia, participated in the study. Physical activity was measured every 15-s using hip-mounted GT3X+ ActiGraph accelerometers for seven consecutive days in the Winter (n = 249), Spring (n = 221), Summer (n = 174) and Autumn (n = 152) school terms. Time spent in moderate (MPA), vigorous (VPA) and moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) at each time point was derived using age-specific cut-points. Meteorological data (maximum temperature, precipitation, daylight hours) were obtained daily during each season. Longitudinal data were analysed using multilevel analyses, adjusted for age, sex, accelerometer wear time, number of valid days, and meteorological variables.
Results:
Compared to Winter, children engaged in significantly less MPA (−5.0 min) and MVPA (−7.8 min) in Summer. Girls engaged in less MVPA in Spring (−18 min) and Summer (−9.2 min) and more MVPA in Autumn (9.9 min) compared to Winter. Significant changes in MPA and VPA bout frequency and duration were also observed. Significant decreases in VPA bout frequency (3.4 bouts) and duration (2.6 min) were observed for girls in Spring compared to Winter. No significant seasonal changes were observed for boys for all intensities and physical activity accumulation.
Conclusions:
Physical activity decreased in Summer compared to Winter, contrasting previous research that typically reports that children are most active in summer. Greater fluctuations were observed for girls’ activity levels. In addition, girls’ activity duration and bouts appeared to be more susceptible to seasonal changes compared to boys. The results suggest that strategies to promote physical activity may be needed in Australia during the hot summer months, particularly for girls.

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