Limited research has longitudinally examined children’s physical activity during school hours over a school year. Most children‘s physical activity research focuses over a short time frame of approximately 7 days. This study investigated physical activity levels over a whole academic year, with a pilot familiarity study (Sept – Dec) to develop habitual wearing techniques, followed then by a longitudinal focus (Jan – July). The study is novel as it examined both the children’s actual physical activity (APA) as well as listening to the children’s voice, through questioning the children about their perceived physical activity (PPA) during school hours. This study aimed to examine and compare children’s PPA and their APA levels.
Ten children from an infant class (5M, 5F; M age=6.6 years) and 10 from a junior class (5M, 5F; M age=9.5 years) in an English primary school participated. APA was recorded for 36 whole school days (371 min per day) via accelerometry. Eighteen school days included Physical Education (PE) and 18 did not. PPA was measured via an adapted version of of the PA Questionnaire for Children (PAQ-C) (Kowalski et al., 2004) with the support of an interactive handset. PPA was examined by asking participants about their ‘general MVPA levels during the school year’ in the adapted PAQ-C. In order to compare with PPA, APA was analysed and presented for light physical activity (LPA) (≥2 METs and <3 METs) and MVPA (≥3 METs) across each part of the school day. A repeated-measures three-factor analysis of variance (ANOVA) analysed the effects of factors including: type of day (PE days/non-PE days), part of the school day (curriculum time/morning recess/lunch time/afternoon recess), sex (boys/girls) and class group (infants/juniors). A two-factor univariate ANOVA (sex and class group) was undertaken for the PE lesson part of the day, as the type of day could not be compared due to there being no equivalent time within non-PE days. Total LPA and MVPA minutes were converted to percentage number of minutes and inputted into excel before analysis in SPSS 22.0 (IBM Corp, Armok, NY, USA) in order for direct comparisons to be made between infants and juniors, as their school days differed. Statistical significance was set at <.05 ± one standard deviation.
Among all participants, only junior boys met moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) recommendations (60±13 min), which were on PE days. All infants and juniors undertook more MVPA on PE days (53±19 min) compared to non-PE days (43±15 min) (F=92.32, p<.05). Infants underestimated and juniors overestimated their APA levels.
It is important to note that children only spend half their waking hours in school, therefore it is very encouraging that junior boys are able to meet recommended MVPA recommendations during school hours, especially as previous data (Dale et al., 2002) has reported few opportunities to be active during school. Children do though, lack the ability to accurately perceive their APA. For children to better understand the health benefits of varying intensities of PA, educators need more support to teach and embed PA, and its varying intensities, into the school day.
Dale, D., Corbin, C. B., & Dale, K. S. (2000). Restricting opportunities to be active during school time: Do children compensate by increasing physical activity levels after school? Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 71, 240–248.
Kowalski, K. C., Crocker, P. R. E., & Donen, R. M. (2004). The Physical Activity Questionnaire for Older Children (PAQ—C) and Adolescents (PAQ—A) Manual. College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, 87(1), 1–38.