Study: Parents key to kids' exercise levels

(HealthDay News) -- Parents play a major role in whether theiryoung children are active or become "couch potatoes," according totwo new studies.

In one study, Oregon State University researchers looked at 200families with children ages 2 to 4 to determine how parenting style affectschildren's physical-activity levels.

All the children spent four to five hours sitting during atypical day, but children of parents deemed "neglectful" (those whoweren't home often and spent less time with their children) spent up to 30additional minutes a day watching television, playing video games or beingengaged in some other type of screen time.

"A half an hour each day may not seem like much, but addthat up over a week, then a month, then a year and you have a big impact,"study lead author David Schary, a doctoral student in the College of PublicHealth and Human Sciences, said in a university news release. "One childmay be getting up to four hours more active play every week, and this sets thestage for the rest of their life."

Schary was even more alarmed to find that all the children weresitting for several hours a day.

"Across all parenting styles, we saw anywhere from four tofive hours a day of sedentary activity," Schary said. "This is wakinghours, not including naps or feeding. Some parents counted quiet play --sitting and coloring, working on a puzzle -- as a positive activity, but thisis an age where movement is essential."

In the second study, Schary and a colleague looked at the samefamilies and found that active play was most common among children whoseparents played with them. But any level of parental encouragement -- even justwatching their child play or driving them to an activity -- had a positiveeffect.

"When children are very young, playing is the main thingthey do during waking hours, so parental support and encouragement iscrucial," Schary said. "So when we see preschool children not goingoutside much and sitting while playing with a cell phone or watching TV, weneed to help parents counteract that behavior."

The studies were published June 21 in the journal{}Early ChildDevelopment and Care.

-- Robert Preidt{}Copyright 2012 HealthDay