Background

Although common knowledge suggests that parenting practices and neighborhood characteristics are vital to guiding children’s long-term health, little is known about how early these factors are associated with early child lifestyle behaviors and weight status. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the characteristics of the home, neighborhood, and parenting practices that are associated with physical activity (PA) and adiposity among young children.

Methods

Participants were 30 parents and their healthy children aged 2-5 years. Parent and child anthropometrics were assessed by trained researchers and weight status was determined according to BMI (parents) or BMI percentile (children). Children wore accelerometers for 7 days to assess habitual PA and sleep. Parents completed a battery of questionnaires to provide additional information about family lifestyle behaviors, neighborhood attributes, and home characteristics.

Results

Only parent BMI significantly predicted child BMI percentile (B = 2.24, p = 0.01). On average, boys were more active than girls on weekday afternoons only (mean difference = 7.7 ± 3.2 min/day). Reported back yard size was inversely associated with MVPA on weekday afternoons (Spearman’s rho = -0.44, p = 0.02) and weekends (Spearman’s rho = -0.40, p = 0.03). However, this association was no longer significant when controlling for frequency of public playground use.

Conclusions

When considering child lifestyle behaviors, parenting practices, and home and neighborhood attributes, only parent BMI significantly predicted child adiposity. Our findings suggest that home characteristics are insufficient to support PA in young children, and that use of public playgrounds moderates the association between home characteristics and child PA. Further, we identified sex differences in PA outside of childcare at an earlier age than is typically shown. These findings have implications for rural communities where space is often plentiful but access to public playgrounds may be limited.