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How active can preschoolers be at home? Parents' and grandparents' perceptions of children's day-to-day activity, with implications for physical activity policy

Parrish, S., Lavis, A., Potter, C. M. , Ulijaszek, S., Nowicka, P. & Eli, K. (2022). How active can preschoolers be at home? Parents' and grandparents' perceptions of children's day-to-day activity, with implications for physical activity policy. Social Science & Medicine, 292, 114557. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114557


The importance of physical activity in early childhood for establishing long-term health is well understood, yet with the exception of recent WHO guidelines, public health initiatives rarely focus on children below school age. Moreover, little is known about how domestic spaces and day-to-day caring activities influence preschool-age children's physical activity. To examine this, we explore caregivers' perceptions of young children's activities within and outside the home, and we consider how lived experiences of caregiving align (or not) with current physical activity policy.

Semi-structured interviews with 49 parents and grandparents from 16 families were conducted in Oregon, USA; each family had a child aged 3–5 years. Questions focused on caregivers' perceptions of and involvement with children's body weights, activities, and food practices. The interviews were analysed using thematic analysis. Our analysis drew on a materialities framework, attending to relationships between children, caregivers, spaces in and around the home, and everyday activities.

Four themes were developed: appropriateness of outside versus inside spaces for physical activity; making accommodations for physical activity in the home; active spaces of care, referring to relationships among space, activity type, and caregiver attention; and mundane movement, or the low-intensity movement of everyday life. Together, the results highlight that children's day-to-day activities cut across a spectrum of movement, mediated by available spaces and caregiving affordances.

Attending to the full spectrum of children's movements highlights how children's activities interlink with family routines, available indoor and outdoor spaces, and the intended uses of these spaces. These interplays between space, care, and physical activity enacted at the household level should inform an integrated, systems-level public health approach to increasing health and well-being for preschool-age children. Suggestions for improvement include coordinating policy development across multiple fields (e.g., housing design, urban planning) that structure the activities of children and their caregivers across ‘home’ and ‘outside’ spaces.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license ( This article has been published in Social Science & Medicine by Elsevier, DOI:
Publisher Keywords: Preschool-age children, Caregivers, Home, Physical activity, Materialities of care, Public health policy
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
L Education > L Education (General)
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics > RJ101 Child Health. Child health services
Departments: School of Health Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
School of Health Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management > Food Policy
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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