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Is your toddler sitting too much? Studies probe parental impact

health-and-fitness Updated: Jul 11, 2012 13:06 IST

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Is your toddler already a couch potato? Sedentary culture starts early, according to two new US studies, with findings suggesting that parents play a major role in getting their little ones on the move.

In one study, University of Oregon researchers looked at 200 families with children ages two to four to determine how parenting styles affect children's physical activity levels. All the children spent four to five hours sitting during a typical day, but children of parents who weren't home often and spent less time with their children spent up to 30 additional minutes a day watching television or sitting in front of a computer screen.

"A half an hour each day may not seem like much, but add that up over a week, then a month, then a year and you have a big impact," study lead author David Schary said in a news release. "One child may be getting up to four hours more active play every week, and this sets the stage for the rest of their life."

"Across all parenting styles, we saw anywhere from four to five hours a day of sedentary activity," he added. "This is waking hours not including naps or feeding. Some parents counted quiet play -- sitting and coloring, working on a puzzle, etc. -- as a positive activity, but this is an age where movement is essential."

While many parents may be less participatory with their children during the work week, do they make up for that during the weekend? Not at all, said the researchers. Sedentary time increased nearly one hour each weekend day.

In a separate study, Schary and coauthor Bradley Cardinal looked at the same group of subjects to find out how they might support and promote active play for their kids. Parents who actively played with their kids had the most impact, but even just watching their child play or driving them to an activity made a difference, said the researchers.

"When children are very young, playing is the main thing they do during waking hours, so parental support and encouragement is crucial," Schary said. "So when we see preschool children not going outside much and sitting while playing with a cell phone or watching TV, we need to help parents counteract that behavior."

Both studies were published last month in the journal Early Child Development and Care.