Tracking movement patterns and associated health outcomes in early childhood

Dr Katherine Downing is investigating whether children up to five years maintain sedentary habits into later childhood.

Do children aged up to five years who are sedentary for long periods maintain these habits into later childhood?

Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Katherine Downing aims to answer this question through her fellowship investigating 24-hour movement behaviours, such as physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep, in early childhood (birth through 5 years).

She is also investigating what potential health outcomes may be associated with combinations of movement behaviours in early childhood.

Movement behaviours have recently been redefined as occurring on a movement spectrum – from no conscious movement (sleep), through to vigorous-intensity physical activity.

“Within a 24-hour period, when time is spent in one behaviour, time in another behaviour is reduced, so it makes sense to consider these behaviours together,” Dr Downing said.

“I’m aiming to fill the gap in evidence around health outcomes associated with movement behaviours in early childhood.”

Through her fellowship work, she has found that physical activity and sedentary behaviour habits established during the preschool years are maintained into primary school, and that these habits tend to track more strongly for girls than boys.

“My findings suggest that these behaviours are stable from a young age. So we need to ensure that interventions and public health messages are promoting high levels of physical activity and low levels of sedentary behaviour from early childhood, particularly for girls, to ensure that children are on a healthy trajectory for life,” she said.

For the second part of her project, she will analyse the health outcomes associated with movement behaviours, using data from existing Australian studies: the Healthy Active Preschool and Primary Years (HAPPY) Study, the Melbourne Infant Feeding Activity and Nutrition Trial (INFANT) – both from IPAN – and the Barwon Infant Study (BIS).

“One of the really novel aspects of this research is that I’ll also be able to investigate a range of cardiovascular risk factors in relation to movement behaviours in early childhood using BIS data,” she said.

Dr Downing hopes her findings will help inform development of future intervention strategies, by identifying how and when to intervene; and also that the results may directly inform the development of more specific 24-hour movement guidelines for the early years.