Investigating activity patterns to optimise children’s health

A better understanding of the combined effect of children's movement behaviours throughout the day will lead to the development of new and effective ways to optimise their health.

The time children spend moving and sitting has a critical impact on their physical and psychosocial health. 

Dr Simone Verswijveren is exploring the combined effect of children’s movement behaviours – physical activity and sedentary behaviour – and their role in children’s health. 

For her Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research fellowship, she will use advanced techniques to capture complex movement behaviours, ranging from low sedentary behaviour to vigorous physical activity in Australian primary school-aged children. 

Dr Verswijveren said interventions designed to encourage children’s movement tended to focus either on increasing physical activity or reducing sedentary behaviour, but that these should not be considered in isolation.   

“We think interventions that focus only on the total time spent in these individual behaviours, without considering their accumulation and combined effects, are ineffective for changing these activities and consequently health outcomes,” she said.  

“Because physical activity and sedentary behaviours happen alongside each other in children’s days, it makes sense to consider them together.  

“Children’s movement behaviours can be accumulated in many ways, for example spread out sporadically across the day or in sustained blocks – so it is important to investigate which of these patterns are optimal for children’s health.” 

Dr Verswijveren aims to develop an understanding of the combined impacts of movement behaviours, and then determine how they are best accumulated throughout the day to optimise children’s health.  

To do this, she will investigate the effects of the TransformUs trial, a school-based intervention developed by IPAN researchers, on children’s combined movement behaviours. The TransformUs intervention is currently running in Victorian primary schools and focuses on both reducing and breaking up sitting (such as standing lessons) as well as increasing physical activity (such as active breaks). It therefore provides a unique opportunity to investigate multiple behaviours across the movement spectrum. 

“I’m hoping to identify whether specific groups of children have distinct activity pattern profiles and if they respond to interventions differently, which could have implications for their health,” Dr Verswijveren said. 

“This is key to informing the development of effective interventions and policies that promote optimal movement and health in children.”