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The benefits of being physically active are well-established (1). During the early years, it is recommended that children aged 1-5 years are active for at least 180 minutes every day, and that children under 1 year of age spend at least 30 minutes each day on their tummy. 

As shown in an infographic from the 2019 the United Kingdom’s Chief Medical Officers’ updated physical activity guidelines – physical activity has numerous benefits for pre-school children, which can be achieved through a range of different activities and opportunities. Importantly, these activities can be incorporated into children’s daily lives to help them meet the targets for optimal health. For clarity, Box 1 outlines key definitions of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and other terms which are used throughout this report. 

For pre-schoolers, not being active enough is associated with poor health (e.g. the development of long-term health conditions or obesity; 2, 3) and can have negative developmental implications both mentally and physically (e.g. emotional well-being, intellectual development, learning fundamental movement skills; 4-6). Reviews of previous studies have identified that, to some degree, parental practices and opinions are key influencers of children’s health behaviours (7, 8). The engagement of pre-school children in community-based opportunities to be physically active has been shown to positively impact their physical activity and sedentary behaviour (9, 10). 

In Wales, young children’s participation rates in community sport and physical activity levels paints a concerning picture. For children aged 0-5 years, engagement with community-based opportunities to be physically active is often driven by the adults responsible for the child’s care. Tackling the high levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour observed in early childhood requires an in-depth understanding of the key factors that influence the adoption of such behaviours. 

Key definitions 

Physical Activity

Any movement produced by the skeletal muscles that requires energy to be used (above resting). It has many purposes and can occur in many ways. For pre-schoolers, this could mean anything from active play to running or crawling.

Sedentary behaviour

Doing very little movement whilst being in a lying or sitting position during waking hours and not much more energy than that used at rest. For a pre-schooler, this could mean sitting watching television or being in a pushchair.

Community-based physical activity opportunities 

Any public, private or third-sector activity provided either for free or at a cost that is purposefully attended and occurs away from the home environment. For example, this could be going to the park, a play group or swimming lessons.

Foundations Group

In 2021, Sport Wales established the National Foundations Focus Group which consists of a range of partners involved in promoting physical activity across Wales. 

Within the ‘Foundations’ area of work Sport Wales are seeking to ensure that every young person is equipped with the skills, confidence, and motivation to enable them to enjoy and progress through sport, provide them with a great start, and be healthy and active for life. It is acknowledged that, in Wales, Play Wales, is the national independent charity for children’s play. This work sought to consider all aspects of community-based physical activity and sport, which encompasses play, and therefore captures the breath of the available evidence and has not been restricted to the individual organisations with a designated remit in Wales. 

Sport North Wales

Sport North Wales is a Sport Partnership established in 2021, comprising of 18 organisations (e.g. local authorities, universities, health boards, education, and housing organisations) seeking to address key health inequalities and physical activity challenges identified in North Wales. 

For Sport North Wales, understanding this information is essential to:

  • Successfully challenge the perceptions of the people who have the greatest influence during the early years of a child’s life
  • Inspire and facilitate engagement with existing community-based opportunities
  • Create alternative options driven by the opinions of the public, that meet the specific needs of local communities

The project was agreed to be a ‘Mixed-Methods Systematic Review to Identify Facilitators and Barriers for Parents/Carers to Engage Pre-school Children in Community-Based Opportunities to be Physically Active’.

The research questions which underpin this review. 

  1. What are the barriers and facilitators to parents/carers living within developed countries engaging pre-schoolers (aged 0-5 years old) in community-based opportunities for physical activity?
  2. Which barriers and facilitators could organisers address when planning future actions to increase engagement and participation?
  3. Do different factors impact children within different contexts (e.g. living in rural versus urban areas)?

Contextualisation of Review Findings

It is widely recognised that physical activity behaviour is complex and can be influenced by multiple different, but interrelated, factors. Therefore, to help contextualise the insight obtained through this work, the review also sought to explore the findings using a socioecological approach. As presented in Figure 2, this type of approach explores at the interactions between the person, their social and physical environments.

A graphic which shows the socioecological model structure based on the work of Sallis et al.  The first circle shows the biological and psychological level factors of the model which include the individual taking part in activity.   The second circle shows the social, relationship and cultural level factors of the model which include the Interpersonal relationships.  The third circle shows the organisation and institution level factors, which include the community in which the individual lives.   The fourth circle shows the physical, natural, and built environment level factors of the model.  The fifth circle shows the local, national and governemnt level factors which contribute to the policy level of the model.

Figure 2. Example of socioecological model structure based on the work of Sallis et al. (11)

N.B. From here on, for ease, reference to parents will encompasses parental, carer and kinship relationships. Where mothers and fathers are referred to in the review analysis, it is because they were the primary focus of the article being discussed. To explore and fully understand the identified questions, and increase the value of operating in an evidence-informed manner, a systematic and rigorous approach was required that would allow valid conclusions to be drawn.

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