The impact of new government childcare accreditation standards on children’s in-care physical activity and sedentary time

Background: A new physical activity and sedentary behaviour accreditation standard criterion for childcare settings was introduced by the provincial government in Alberta, Canada. The primary objective of this study was to examine if changes for in-care physical activity and sedentary time (ST) difered between centres in and around Edmonton, Alberta after implementing the new accreditation standards and non-accredited control centres in and around Ottawa, Ontario. Secondary objectives were to examine whether baseline age group (toddler, preschooler) or the childcare environment moderated any group differences in change of the primary outcomes. Furthermore, accreditation and control group differences in change of children’s body mass index (BMI) Z-scores or cognitive development as well as educators’ perceptions of the primary outcomes were explored.

Methods: Participants were 252 toddlers (19–35months) and preschoolers (36–60months) in childcare centres from Alberta (n=11) and Ontario (n=8) in the supporting Healthy physical AcTive CHildcare setting (HATCH) study. In-care ST, light-intensity physical activity (LPA), and moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (MVPA) were accelerometer–derived before and 6months after the implementation of the new standards. At both time points, cognitive development (working memory, expressive vocabulary), heights, and weights were measured, and BMI Z-scores were
calculated. Additionally, the childcare environment was observed using the Environment and Policy Assessment and Observation (EPAO) and Movement Environment Rating Scale (MOVERS) tools. Demographic characteristics were parent-reported and weather variables were derived from Environment Canada data. Mixed models were conducted.

Results: In adjusted models (n=241), change in children’s in-care ST (B=-0.07, 95%CI: −1.43,1.29), LPA (B=0.08, 95%CI: −0.89,1.05), and log–transformed MVPA (B=0.01, 95%CI: −0.09,0.11) were not significantly different between accreditation and control groups. Age group and the childcare environment were not moderators. Significant increases in BMI Z-score (B=0.19, 95%CI: 0.03,0.35) and high working memory (OR=3.24, 95%CI: 1.32,7.97) were observed in the accreditation group and significant increases in expressive vocabulary (B=3.18, 95%CI: 0.05,6.30) were observed in the control group.

Conclusions: The new accreditation criterion may not significantly change physical activity or ST in childcare settings and therefore may not explain findings for BMI Z-scores and cognitive development. Additional training and resources may be needed.

Lead Researchers

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  1. Gary Goldfield

    Senior Scientist, CHEO Research Institute

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