Introduction: Research has not been conducted on physical activity in early child education and care (ECEC) settings in low-income, rural communities in South Africa. This study aimed to describe the physical activity environment of these settings and identify child and contextual factors associated with physical activity in these settings. By understanding physical activity in this environment, it will be possible to identify context-specific opportunities, including with teachers, to overcome potential challenges and maximise physical activity in a low- and middle-income country setting.
Methods: The study was conducted in rural Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga in 2014. Preschool-aged children (n=55) were recruited from five ECEC settings, including three preschools and two primary schools, where preschool-aged children are in their reception year, grade R. Preschool environment characteristics were assessed using an observational tool adapted from existing tools. Children’s physical activity was assessed using the Observational System for Recording Physical Activity in Children – Preschool Version. Differences between preschool and grade R settings were assessed using x2 analyses, and multinomial logistic regression analysis was used to determine factors associated with physical activity in the ECEC settings.
Results: The physical activity environment differed between preschool and grade R ECEC settings in terms of space (preschoolgrade R, p<0.001). On average, children spent 28.7% of their day in the ECEC settings engaged in physical activity, of which 22.3% was moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA). Children spent the greatest proportion of the day in sedentary activities (69.9%) and this differed significantly between preschool (63.2%) and grade R children (81.3%, p<0.001). Preschool children were significantly more active than grade R children, and spent greater proportions of time in light-intensity physical activity (8.6% v 2.7%, p<0.001) and MVPA (25.4% v 15.3%, p<0.001). Irrespective of ECEC setting, children were significantly more likely to participate in MVPA if they were outdoors (p=0.001), and significantly less likely to do MVPA if they were overweight/obese (p=0.006).
Conclusion: These findings provide insight into child-level and contextual factors associated with preschool-aged children’s physical activity within ECEC settings in a low-income, rural community in South Africa. Particularly, the physical and social features of ECEC settings are important in the promotion of physical activity. Findings from this study suggest that it is necessary to upskill and encourage teachers in ECEC settings to maximise opportunities for physical activity in rural low-income communities in South Africa.