Physical activity provides health and developmental benefits to young children. The Study of Nutrition and Activity in Child Care Settings describes physical activity opportunities and sedentary occasions for children aged 1 to 5 years at programs participating in the US Department of Agriculture Child and Adult Care Food Program.


The Study of Nutrition and Activity in Child Care Settings obtained a nationally representative sample of classrooms within Child and Adult Care Food Program-participating Head Start and child care centers via multistage cluster sampling. For 1 observation day, an observer in each classroom tallied designated outdoor and indoor playspaces; minutes children spent in playspaces; barriers and facilitators to physical activity; and classroom time when most children were physically active (eg, walking, dancing), sedentary (seated, lying down), or neither. Weighted descriptive tabulations by program type compared outdoor physical activity opportunity counts and total physical activity opportunity durations to national guidelines. Multivariate regression analysis investigated association of barriers with physical activity opportunity duration.


The sample included 227 classrooms, 96 in child care centers and 131 in Head Start programs. All had sedentary occasions outside meals, snacks, and naps; virtually all offered opportunities for physical activity. Seventy-four percent of programs met national guidance on sufficient number of outdoor opportunities, weather permitting. Just 50% met guidance of ≥60 to 90 minutes of physical activity, whereas only 43% met both sets of guidance. Weather and staff not joining in outdoor play were associated with 74 and 31 fewer minutes devoted to physical activity, respectively.


Findings suggest ample room for improvement in provision of physical activity opportunities during child care.

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