The amount of physical activity among 3-5-year-old children in relation to the Finnish physical activity recommendations: preliminary results from the Active Early Numeracy -project

7.6.2021
The Ministry of Education and Culture (OKM 2016:35) recommends a minimum of three hours of daily physical activity during early childhood. Of this, one hour should be vigorous physical activity.
The Ministry of Education and Culture; OKM 2016:35. Physical activity recommendations during early childhood.

The Ministry of Education and Culture; OKM 2016:35. Physical activity recommendations during early childhood.

In the first assessment period of the Active Early Numeracy -project (2019-2020), the physical activity of 3-5-year-old children from Helsinki was measured via waist-worn accelerometers (Actigraph wGT3X-BT). The children wore the accelerometers during waking hours for seven consecutive days. Data was successfully collected (accelerometer worn for a minimum of 8h/day) from 233 children. Previously established thresholds for preschool-aged children were used to quantify the intensity of physical activity (Pate et al., 2006).

The results demonstrated that, on average, 233/233, i.e., 100% of the children met the recommended three hours of daily physical activity. The total amount of physical activity ranged from 221 to 488 minutes per day. The recommendation of one hour of daily vigorous physical activity was met on average by 226/233, i.e., 97% of the children. The average amount of vigorous physical activity ranged from 30 to 192 minutes per day. These results do not address the daily variation in physical activity of individual children. This should also be considered when identifying insufficiently active children.

These cross-sectional results suggest that the participating children were highly active during the assessment period; only a few children did not meet the recommended amount of daily vigorous physical activity. The physical activity of – especially the insufficiently active – children should be assessed longitudinally to observe whether their total physical activity begins to decline at such an early stage. 

Participation in this study is voluntary, which may have an impact on the selection of families. When comparing the participating families to the information provided by Statistics Finland on the population of Helsinki, a few observations can be made. First, when looking at the educational background, the parents in the Active Early Numeracy -project had a lower proportion of parents with basic education, while the proportion of parents with higher education was greater when compared to the average in Helsinki. In addition, the proportion of families speaking something else than Finnish as their home language was notably lower among the participating families in comparison to the average in Helsinki. In terms of income- and employment status, the participating families were comparable to the averages in Helsinki.

The results have also been published in the City of Helsinki’s physical activity indicator (in Finnish).

References:

Finnish recommendations for physical activity in early childhood 2016. Joy, play and doing together. Ministry of Education and Culture 2016;35.

Pate, R. R., Almeida, M. J., McIver, K. L., Pfeiffer, K. A., & Dowda, M. (2006). Validation and calibration of an accelerometer in preschool children. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 14(11), 2000–2006. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2006.234