Research Study Abstract

Cross-Country Comparisons of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior among 5-Year-Old Children

  • Published on June 3, 2020

Purpose: Previous studies have observed that physical activity (PA) levels tend to be lower in the U.S. population than in many other countries. Within the U.S., PA levels in children are lower in the South than in other regions. Cross-country and interregional differences in PA have not been studied in young children.

Methods: In an ongoing study of children at genetic risk for Type 1 diabetes, PA was measured by accelerometry in samples of 5-year-old children from Finland, Germany, Sweden, and the U.S. The U.S. sample was drawn from centers in Washington State, Colorado, and Georgia/Florida. Children wore accelerometers for 7 days, and the data were reduced to daily minutes of light-, moderate- (MPA), vigorous- (VPA), and moderate-to-vigorous- (MVPA) intensity PA and sedentary behavior. Multiple regression was used to compare children across countries and across regions in the U.S, adjusting for wear time, body mass index, and demographic characteristics.

Results: After adjusting for previously mentioned factors, MVPA and MPA were lower in U.S. children than those in Finland and Sweden. Estimates of physical activity were higher in Finland than in other countries, although not all comparisons were significantly different. U.S children spent significantly more time in sedentary behavior than children in Finland. Within the U.S., children’s PA was consistently lowest in Georgia/Florida and highest in Washington. Conclusions. Cross-country differences in PA, previously reported for adults and adolescents, are evident in 5-year-old children. In general, PA levels are lower in U.S. children than their European counterparts, and within the U.S., are lower in Georgia/Florida and Colorado than in Washington. Future studies should be designed to identify the factors that explain these differences.


  • Kerry L. McIver 1
  • Russell R. Pate 1
  • Marsha Dowd 1
  • Suzanne Bennett Johnson 2
  • Jimin Yang 3
  • Martha Butterworth 3
  • Xiang Liu 3


  • 1

    University of South Carolina, Arnold School of Public Health, Department of Exercise Science, 921 Assembly Street, Columbia, SC 29208, USA

  • 2

    Florida State University, College of Medicine, Department of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine, Tallahassee, FL 32306, USA

  • 3

    University of South Florida, Health Informatics Institute, Tampa, FL 33620, USA


International Journal of Pediatrics

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