Describing objectively measured physical activity levels, patterns, and correlates in a cross sectional sample of infants and toddlers from South Africa.

22 Mar 2018

BACKGROUND: Physical activity is considered to have health benefits across the lifespan but levels, patterns, and correlates have not been well described in infants and toddlers under the age of two years. METHODS: This study aimed to describe objectively and subjectively measured physical activity in a group of South African infants aged 3- to 24-months (n = 140), and to investigate individual and maternal correlates of physical activity in this sample. Infants' physical activity was measured using an Axivity AX3 wrist-worn accelerometer for one week and the mean vector magnitude was calculated. In addition, mothers reported the average amount of time their infant spent in various types of activities (including in front of the TV), their beliefs about infants' physical activity, access to equipment in the home environment, and ages of motor development milestone attainment. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and pair-wise correlations were used to test age and sex differences and associations with potential correlates. RESULTS: There were significant age and sex effects on the distribution of time spent at different physical activity intensities (Wilks' lambda = 0.06, p < 0.01). In all cases, the trend was for boys to spend more time in higher intensity physical activity and less time in lower intensity activity than girls; and for time spent in higher intensity activities to be higher in older children. Time spent outside was higher in boys, and this reached significance at 18-months (F = 3.84, p = 0.02). Less concern around floor play was associated with higher physical activity at 12-months in females only (p = 0.03, r = 0.54), and no other maternal beliefs were correlated with physical activity. The majority (94%) of children were exceeding TV time recommendations. When controlling for age and sex, overall TV time was positively associated with BMI z-score (β=0.01, p = 0.05). CONCLUSION: This study is the first to show sex and age differences in the patterns of physical activity, and to report on objectively measured and maternal reported physical activity and sedentary behaviour in the first two years of life in South Africa infants. Infants and toddlers should be provided with as many opportunities to be active through play as possible, and TV time should be limited.