McMaster University

McMaster University

How Active is your Preschooler?

The Hamilton Spectator
November 17, 2011
Carmelina Prete

We often think of preschoolers as eager wee ones with little bodies that don't stay still. Most run and jump and play with more energy than their parents.

Or do they?

If you had to evaluate the activity habits of your child's typical daily routine, what would it look like? How often are they actively playing versus watching TV or playing video games? The answers might surprise you.

McMaster University researchers are asking for parents' help in a major study that aims to understand how much and what type of physical activity is necessary to optimize health in the early years. The longitudinal study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, will investigate the link between physical activity, nutrition and health among preschoolers.

Childhood obesity is a health crisis, with medical experts warning today's children are the first generation expected to live shorter lives than their parents. The Canadian statistics are dire, with at least 26 per cent of children aged two to 17 considered overweight or obese.

But the HOPP study, which stands for Health Outcomes and Physical activity in Preschoolers, "isn't only about obesity. It's about health in general," said Brian Timmons, research director of the child health and exercise medicine program at McMaster University and McMaster Children's Hospital.

The study, which began in November 2010, aims to recruit 400 preschoolers who will be followed for three years. From the 100 children already enrolled, researchers have discovered that preschoolers who engage in more intense physical activity more often have better overall health.

Timmons said the key is to make physical activity a habit, with plenty of opportunity for kids to simply move. That could be something as simple as playing tag for 10 minutes outside.

Currently, there are no Canadian guidelines for physical activity in preschoolers. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology recommends five to 11 year olds get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. New guidelines for preschoolers are expected in the spring.

Many parents believe organized sports give kids enough physical activity, Timmons said, but the amount of actual physical activity is less than what you'd expect.

"It's deceiving," he said. "We have to get away from the idea that organized sports are the answer. It's the free play that's important to instil."

Hamilton parent Simone Thomson enrolled her son Stewart, 5, and daughter Elsie, 6, in the study last year because she thought it would be a great learning experience for the children.

"It's great exposure for the kids. It's been a very positive experience," said Thomson, whose family does Friday night swim nights at a local community centre as a means to incorporate regular physical activity into their lives.

If you are a parent interested in involving your three, four or five-year-old, contact Nicole Proudfoot at 905-521-2100 ext. 77217 or

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