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Physical Activity Opportunities in US Early Child Care Programs

Maria H. Boyle, Lauren E.W. Olsho, Michele R. Mendelson, Chantal M. Stidsen, Christopher W. Logan, Michael B. Witt, Abt Asociates; Alice Ann H. Gola, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Kristen A. Copeland, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Department of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine


May 19, 2022

Physical activity provides health and developmental benefits to young children. Findings of the Abt-led Study of Nutrition and Activity in Child Care Settings (SNACS) suggest ample room for improvement in provision of physical activity opportunities during child care.

60% of pre-school aged U.S. children are in formal child care for 30 hours weekly on average. So child care settings are the main opportunity for many children to be active.

SNACS describes physical activity opportunities and sedentary occcasions for children aged 1 to 5 years at 227 child care programs participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Child and Adult Care Food Program. From February to July 2017, we watched and tracked what the class was doing for the entire day.

All programs had sedentary occasions, and virtually all offered physical activity. Seventy-four percent of programs met national guidance on sufficient number of outdoor opportunities, weather permitting. Just 50% met guidance of at least 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity, and only 43% met both standards. Classes were sedentary over 25% of the time. Staff not joining in outdoor play was associated with 31 fewer minutes devoted to physical activity, and bad weather was associated with 74 fewer minutes.