Assessing the Social and Physical Contexts of Children's Leisure-Time Physical Activity

An Ecological Momentary Assessment Study

Most U.S. children do not meet the recommended amount of physical activity—60 minutes a day at least five days a week. Lack of space and time for play, as well as safety issues are among factors keeping children from being active.

Researchers wanted to get a clearer picture of children’s physical activity across of range of settings throughout the day. They used mobile phones to capture real time data of children ages 9 to 13 living in Chico, Calif. Participants were prompted at various times during the day to complete a brief electronic questionnaire that elicited information about the social and physical context of their activity.

The survey determined what the child was doing before the beep went off (homework, watching TV, exercising, eating); whether they were alone or engaged with others (family, friend, people they didn’t know); and where they were (home, school, car, mall, outdoors, recreation center).

The largest proportion of children’s physical activity occurred with multiple categories of people (39%), outdoors away from home (42%). Only a small percentage of children’s physical activity occurred when they were alone, which underscores the value of public parks and recreation spaces to promote physical activity.