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Contribution of free play towards physical activity guidelines for New Zealand primary school children aged 7–9 years

Abstract

Objective The objectives of this study were to investigate children's physical activity patterns to gain comparisons between home and school and to determine whether the current physical activity guidelines of 60 min of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) daily were being met.

Methods Participants were recruited from two New Zealand primary schools (60 children, mean age (SD) 8.3 (0.7) years). Physical activity was measured for seven consecutive days using Actigraph accelerometers. Total activity and average counts were determined for school playtime, after school and weekends. Differences between average counts for these intervals were compared using the t statistic. Time and percentage of time spent were categorised into the activity thresholds: sedentary (<100), light (101–299), moderate (3000–5200) and vigorous (>5200). Total activity for each day was also determined.

Results No child met the recommended 60 min of MVPA daily during the investigation. Compared to school playtime, activity counts were lower by 36% (CI 25% to 45.5%, p<0.001, effect size (ES)=−1.29) after school, 50.1% (CI 37% to 60.5%, p<0.001, ES=−2.01) on Saturday and 57.4% (CI 46.3% to 66.3%, p<0.001, ES=−2.47) on Sunday. Mean results showed children spent 91–96% of their time engaged in light or sedentary activities. Even during school playtime, where the children were most active, only 8 of 80 min were spent engaged in MVPA.

Conclusions This study found activity levels were considerably lower than the recommended guidelines, and children were more active during school playtime compared to after school and weekends.

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