Timing of the decline in physical activity in childhood and adolescence: Gateshead Millennium Cohort Study

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Abstract

Background and aim

There is a widely held and influential view that physical activity begins to decline at adolescence. This study aimed to identify the timing of changes in physical activity during childhood and adolescence.

Methods

Longitudinal cohort study (Gateshead Millennium Study) with 8 years of follow-up, from North-East England. Cohort members comprise a socioeconomically representative sample studied at ages 7, 9, 12 and 15 years; 545 individuals provided physical activity data at two or more time points. Habitual total volume of physical activity and moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) were quantified objectively using the Actigraph accelerometer over 5–7 days at the four time points. Linear mixed models identified the timing of changes in physical activity across the 8-year period, and trajectory analysis was used to identify subgroups with distinct patterns of age-related changes.

Results

Four trajectories of change in total volume of physical activity were identified representing 100% of all participants: all trajectories declined from age 7 years. There was no evidence that physical activity decline began at adolescence, or that adolescent declines in physical activity were substantially greater than the declines during childhood, or greater in girls than boys. One group (19% of boys) had relatively high MVPA which remained stable between ages 7 and15 years.

Conclusions

Future policy and research efforts to promote physical activity should begin well before adolescence, and should include both boys and girls.

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