Young children are thought to be inactive in childcare, but little is known about location-specific activity levels. This observational study sought to describe the in-care and out-of-care activity patterns of preschool-aged children and explore differences in physical activity level by childcare attendance.
Three to four-year-old children were recruited from 30 preschool and nursery ‘settings’ in Cambridgeshire, UK. Average minutes per hour (min/h) spent sedentary (SED), in light physical activity (LPA) and in moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) were measured by accelerometry for up to 7 days (mean: 6.7 ± 1.1). Weekly childcare attendance patterns were reported by parents. The within-child association between childcare attendance and outcomes was assessed using two- and three-level hierarchical regression; sex by care (in/out) interactions were considered.
Two hundred and two children (51 % female) had valid activity data for ≥2 days. Children, and particularly boys, were less sedentary and more active when in care compared to at home (SED: Boys: β (SE): −6.4 (0.5) min/h, Girls: −4.8 (0.5); LPA: Boys: 0.6 (0.4), Girls: 1.8 (0.4); MVPA: Boys: 5.7 (0.5); Girls: 3.0 (0.4)). Differences between in-care and at-home activity were largest in the (early) mornings and early evenings for boys; no compensation in at-home activity occurred later in the day. On days when children were in care part-time (1–5 h) or full-time (>5 h), they were significantly less sedentary and more active compared with non-care days.
Young children, and particularly boys, accumulate more MVPA in care compared to at home. Future research should identify factors accounting for this difference and consider targeting non-care time in intervention efforts to increase higher-intensity activity and decrease sedentary time in preschoolers.