Shang-Ming Zhou – Swansea University
Physical activity is important at all stages of life, as it prevents obesity, improves well-being and reduces the risk of many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.
Childhood is one of the most important time periods for the formation of future health behaviours. Evidence shows that being active at a young age tracks into adulthood, and that physical activity behaviours adopted when young are likely to carry through life.
The early years are a significant period of growth and development, and for this reason, the Department of Health in the UK produced guidelines regarding physical activity for children from birth to 5 years of age. These guidelines encourage physical activity from birth, through both floor‐ and water‐based activities. However, little is known about the factors that predict physical health and how much activity is normal for infants (birth age, 1 y) and toddlers (1‐3 y).
To fill this knowledge gap, a team of NCPHWR researchers based at Swansea University, explored factors associated with the physical activity levels of 12‐month‐old infants, specifically to examine factors that were predictive of higher levels of physical activity at the age 12 months.
141 mother-infant pairs were recruited and physical activity levels were collected using accelerometers and linked to postnatal notes and electronic medical records via the Secure Anonymised Information Linkage Databank.
Higher physical activity levels were associated with the following:
- Being male,
- Larger infant size,
- Healthy maternal blood pressure levels,
- A full-term gestation period,
- Higher consumption of vegetables (infant),
- lower consumption of juice (infant),
- Low consumption of adult crisps (infant),
- Longer breastfeeding duration,
- More movement during sleep (infant) but fewer night wakings.
Lower physical activity levels were associated with:
- Female gender
- Smaller infant
- Preterm birth
- Higher maternal blood pressure,
- Low vegetable consumption,
- High crisp consumption,
- Less night movement.
This study clearly identified the factors associated with physical activity levels in 12‐month‐old infants.
The activity levels of infants were strongly associated with both gestational (the time between conception and birth) and postnatal (period after birth) environmental factors. Healthy behaviours appear to cluster, and a healthy diet was associated with a more active infant. Boys were substantially more active than girls, even at age 12 months.
As risks for poor health cluster together in this study, by tackling one, it could create a ripple effect of change. Improving infant diet means that they will be more active which has a knock-on effect for their sleep patterns too. And ultimately it can improve the infant’s physical fitness throughout life. Helping families with poor health behaviours from pregnancy could really improve overall health for the future infant.
Importantly, these findings going forward can help inform interventions to promote healthier lives for infants and to understand the determinants of their physical levels.
Read the full publication here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ijpo.12512