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Being a good fitness role model for kids might not have to involve sweat

January 27, 2010 | 12:35 pm

Parents have long been told that they need to be good role models for their kids in terms of exercise, being active themselves to set a good example for their offspring.

Jfw06gnc But a new study may counter that notion. In a recent study in the journal Preventive Medicine, researchers found no express link between parents being active and how much physical activity their children got. The link was found instead in how the parents perceived and supported their children's athletic exploits.

The authors, from Oregon State University and the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, studied 268 children ages 2 to 5 who were in 13 child-care centers in Queensland, as well as 156 parents or caregivers. Parents were surveyed about their own levels of physical activity, how much they enjoyed exercise, how important they thought physical activity was for their child, how they viewed their child's physical competence and how often per week they supported physical activity. They also determined how much physical activity the children got at home.

Overall, parental support of physical activity was linked with children's physical activity levels at home, but not moderate to vigorous activity at child care. In both home and child-care settings, the parents' view of their child’s capabilities was positively linked with the child's physical activity.

In the study, the authors wrote, "[T]he manner in which parents' perceptions influenced child [physical activity] was dependent on context. In the home setting, parents' perceptions of competence influenced children's [physical activity] behavior both directly and indirectly through its effect on parental support for PA. This suggested that parents who perceived their children to be more competent and capable of actively playing were more likely to provide the instrumental and emotional support required for young children to be physically active. In the child care setting, however, parent support for [physical activity] was not related to children's [physical activity]."

"Active parents may be more likely to have active children because they encourage that behavior through the use of support systems and opportunities for physical activity, but there is no statistical evidence that a child is active simply because they see that their parents exercise," said co-author Stewart Trost, director of the Obesity Prevention Research Core at OSU, in a news release.

— Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times