MONDAY, March 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Want to keep your
little kids active? A new study suggests that mothers may be the
key: Preschool children with more active moms appear more likely to
be active themselves.
The research doesn't confirm that physical activity in mothers
directly affects how much their kids walk or run around. And the
findings don't say anything about the role of fathers.
Still, the study provides evidence that mothers should be
encouraged to move around, said lead author Esther van Sluijs,
group leader with the MRC Epidemiology Unit and the Center for Diet
and Activity Research, at the University of Cambridge School of
Clinical Medicine, in England.
"If activity in mothers and children can be encouraged or incorporated into daily activities so that more time is spent moving, activity levels are likely to increase in both," she said. "In return, this is likely to have long-term health benefits for both."
The researchers launched their study to build on other research
into how the physical activity of mothers and their kids are
connected, van Sluijs said.
According to the researcher, parents seem to affect their kids'
physical activities in three ways -- by acting as role models, by
helping kids be active (by taking them to the park, for instance),
and by being active with them. "All three aspects are thought to be
important," van Sluijs said, "but it has generally been unclear how
directly mother and child's physical activity are related."
In the study, the researchers used devices called accelerometers
to track 554 children, all 4 years old, and their mothers for as
many as seven days. "The more activity a mother did, the more
active her child," van Sluijs noted.
Specifically, for every single minute of moderate-to-vigorous
activity that the mother did, her child was more likely to do 10
percent more of a similar level of activity. Those extra minutes
add up over time, the researchers pointed out.
Does that mean active mothers make their kids more active or the
other way around? Or could another factor such as genetics or the
places where families live affect the level of physical activity in
both mother and child? It's not clear.
However, "it is likely that activity in one of the pair
influences activity in the other," van Sluijs said.
The research matters because "better understanding activity
patterns in preschool-age children can inform the ways we approach
prevention and intervention," said Bernard Fuemmeler, an associate
professor and co-director of Duke University Medical Center's
mHealth@Duke, which explores the use of technology to improve
health. Fuemmeler was not involved with the study.
Another expert focused on the issue of fathers and what role
they might play.
"This is a big question not addressed here," said Leann Birch, a professor at the University of Georgia's department of foods and nutrition who studies children and obesity. But, she said, research on parenting suggests that fathers tend to engage in more rough-and-tumble and high-action play with kids than mothers.
Also, she said, "some of our own work showed that reported
activity by dads was more important than by moms in predicting the
activity of daughters, especially in organized sports during later
As for future studies, lead author van Sluijs said researchers
hope to investigate whether the link between physical activity in
mothers and children will change as kids grow older. They also want
to study "ways to engage the family and help parents to effectively
change their own and their children's health behaviors," she
The study appeared online March 24 and in the April print issue
of the journal
For more about children's fitness, visit the
American Academy of Pediatrics.
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