Doctor of Philosophy
School of Education
Physical inactivity and electronic media use have been shown to be detrimentally associated with several health and developmental outcomes in the early years, however investigations into cognitive and psychosocial health outcomes are limited. The aim of this Doctoral thesis was to cross-sectionally and longitudinally investigate associations between physical activity (intensity and type) and electronic media use (type) with cognitive and psychosocial health in preschool children (3- to 5-years). This thesis aimed to provide evidence to better understand and improve the health and well-being of children, and to help inform policies and practices related to physical activity and electronic media use in young children. This Doctorate is comprised of a literature review, five original research papers using data from a prospective observational study – the Preschool Activity, Technology, Health, Adiposity, Behaviour and Cognition (PATH-ABC) study – and an overall discussion and conclusion chapter discussing the implications of the findings.
Chapter 1 introduces the topic and provides the aims and research questions outlined for this thesis. This chapter then discusses the significance of the research, its delimitations, limitations and definitions of key terms.
Chapter 2 provides a literature review of the topic area. It provides definitions of physical activity and electronic media use, and then discusses the measurement of these behaviours. The chapter discusses current physical activity and electronic media guidelines, and prevalence rates in early childhood. This is then followed by a review of the evidence on associations of physical activity and electronic media use with cognitive and psychosocial health outcomes in early childhood, including a discussion of possible mechanisms. Lastly, this chapter discusses the translation of research into practice and reconciles the available evidence, highlighting gaps for further research.
Chapter 3 examines the cross-sectional associations of objectively-measured physical activity and modified organised sport participation with executive functions (i.e., cognitive control abilities that are central to thinking and learning, including working memory, inhibition and shifting) and psychosocial health in preschool children. Light intensity physical activity was negatively associated with children's visual-spatial working memory, while the positive association between vigorous intensity physical activity and visualspatial working memory approached significance. Similarly, higher levels of vigorous intensity physical activity were associated with fewer internalising behaviour problems. However, vigorous and moderate-to vigorous intensity physical activity were positively associated with externalising behaviour problems. In addition, modified organised sport participants displayed higher shifting performance compared to those who did not participate in sport.
Chapter 4 examines the longitudinal associations of objectively measured physical activity and modified organised sport participation at 3- to 5-years with executive functions and psychosocial health 12 months later. Vigorous intensity physical activity at baseline was positively associated with children’s shifting performance at follow-up, while this association for moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity approached statistical significance. Children who did not participate in modified organised sport at baseline demonstrated better inhibition scores 12 months later compared to sports participants. No longitudinal associations were evident between physical activity or modified organised sport participation and psychosocial health.
Chapter 5 examines the cross-sectional associations of electronic media use with executive functions and psychosocial health in preschool children. Negative associations were observed for total electronic media use and TV/program viewing with children’s visualspatial working memory. However, high-dose app users (≥30 min/day) displayed higher phonological working memory compared to non-users. Similarly, compared to non-users, low dose app users (1 - 29 min/day) displayed fewer total psychosocial difficulties.
Chapter 6 examines longitudinal associations of electronic media use at 3- to 5-years with executive functions and psychosocial health 12 months later. Higher levels of program viewing at baseline were significantly associated with more externalising behaviours and total psychosocial difficulties at follow-up. Likewise, high-dose app users (≥30 min/day) at baseline displayed significantly lower inhibition capabilities 12 months later, compared to low-dose app users (1 - 29 min/day), although neither group significantly differed from non-users.
Chapter 7 examines cross-sectional and longitudinal associations of compliance with the Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years with executive functions and psychosocial health in preschool children. Associations were examined for meeting: i) individual recommendations; ii) combinations of recommendations; iii) the number of recommendations; and iv) the overall guidelines. Cross-sectionally, children who met both the physical activity and sleep guidelines combined displayed better phonological working memory and shifting performance, compared to those who did not. Compared to children who met one/no guidelines, children who met two guidelines displayed better phonological working memory, whereas the difference in phonological working memory between children who meet three guidelines, and those who met one/no guidelines approached significance. Children who met three guidelines demonstrated better shifting ability compared to children who met one/no guidelines. The difference in shifting ability between children who met two guidelines compared to those who met one/no guidelines approached significance. Longitudinally, children who met the physical activity guideline at 3-5 years displayed better shifting performance 12 months later compared to those who did not. However, children who met the overall integrated 24-h movement behaviour guidelines did not display better executive functions or psychosocial health outcomes, compared to those who did not, cross-sectionally or longitudinally. No significant cross-sectional or longitudinal associations were observed for psychosocial health outcomes.
Chapter 8 concludes by reconciling this evidence, and discussing its implications for the community, researchers and policy makers in relation to supporting young children’s cognitive and psychosocial health, and how these outcomes might be influenced by participation in physical activity and engagement with electronic media. Specifically, this thesis integrates these findings with other available evidence to suggest the most beneficial intensities and types of physical activity, and types and doses of electronic media use in the early years, to assist in placing children on the best pathway to optimal health and give them the best start to life.
McNeill, Jade, An investigation into the associations of physical activity and electronic media use with cognitive and psychosocial health in preschool children, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of Education, University of Wollongong, 2019. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses1/620
Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.