Feds Spend $460,809 Watching Preschoolers Outdoors

Using GPS and light sensors to observe preschooler’s physical activity levels

November 11, 2015

The National Institutes of Health is spending nearly a half a million dollars for researchers to observe how much time preschoolers in daycare spend outdoors.

The project will also use GPS and light sensors to track kids’ physical activity levels in a "robust" effort to fight childhood obesity.

"Physical activity lowers the risk of obesity in children, is independently associated with numerous benefits related to health and well-being, and tracks from preschool-age to adolescence," according to a grant awarded to Seattle Children’s Hospital. "The amount of time preschoolers spend outdoors is thought to correlate with their physical activity levels."

"Yet, most US children today likely spend less time playing outdoors than previous generations," the grant stated. "The study of children's outdoor play time is not merely about resurrecting less digital, more unstructured childhoods, but is related to serious public health issues."

The project will engage in a "robust measurement" of how much time kids spend outdoors, using technology to track when daycare kids go outside.

"Specifically, Aim 1 is to validate light sensors and GPS units against direct observation as accurate measures of outdoor time," the grant stated. "Aim 2 is to accurately quantify preschoolers' outdoor time at child care and its relationship to accelerometer-measured physical activity and various modifiable child care environment characteristics."

The ultimate goal of the study is to create an "intervention" that will result in kids exercising more.

The project has cost taxpayers $460,809, and its budget will continue until April 2016.

Published results so far found that preschoolers had fewer than recommended opportunities for physical activity at day care and that "Children were more active and less sedentary outdoors versus indoors."

Another paper published last June found that kids who had basketball hoops were "positively associated" with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, and that children without televisions in their rooms were less likely to sit around.