Systematic review of the relationships between sedentary behavior and health indicators in the early years (aged 0–4 years)

Poitras, Veronica J. and Gray, Casey E. and Janssen, Xanne and Aubert, Salome and Carson, Valerie and Faulkner, Guy and Goldfield, Gary S. and Reilly, John J. and Sampson, Margaret and Tremblay, Mark S. (2017) Systematic review of the relationships between sedentary behavior and health indicators in the early years (aged 0–4 years). BMC Public Health, 17 (Suppl ). 868. ISSN 1471-2458 (

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Background: The purpose of this systematic review was to examine the relationships between sedentary behaviour (SB) and health indicators in children aged 0 to 4 years, and to determine what doses of SB (i.e., duration, patterns [frequency, interruptions], and type) were associated with health indicators. Methods: Online databases were searched for peer-reviewed studies that met the a priori inclusion criteria: population (apparently healthy, 1 month to 4.99 years), intervention/exposure and comparator (durations, patterns, and types of SB), and outcome/health indicator (critical: adiposity, motor development, psychosocial health, cognitive development; important: bone and skeletal health, cardiometabolic health, fitness, risks/harm). The quality of the evidence was assessed by study design and outcome using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) framework. Results: Due to heterogeneity, meta-analyses were not possible; instead, narrative syntheses were conducted, structured around the health indicator and type of SB. A total of 96 studies were included (195,430 participants from 33 countries). Study designs were: randomized controlled trial (n = 1), case-control (n = 3), longitudinal (n = 25), longitudinal with additional cross-sectional analyses (n = 5), and cross-sectional (n = 62). Evidence quality ranged from “very low” to “moderate”. Associations between objectively measured total sedentary time and indicators of adiposity and motor development were predominantly null. Associations between screen time and indicators of adiposity, motor or cognitive development, and psychosocial health were primarily unfavourable or null. Associations between reading/storytelling and indicators of cognitive development were favourable or null. Associations between time spent seated (e.g., in car seats or strollers) or in the supine position, and indicators of adiposity and motor development, were primarily unfavourable or null. Data were scarce for other outcomes. Conclusions: These findings continue to support the importance of minimizing screen time for disease prevention and health promotion in the early years, but also highlight the potential cognitive benefits of interactive non-screen-based sedentary behaviours such as reading and storytelling. Additional high-quality research using valid and reliable measures is needed to more definitively establish the relationships between durations, patterns, and types of SB and health indicators, and to provide insight into the appropriate dose of SB for optimal health in the early years.


Poitras, Veronica J., Gray, Casey E., Janssen, Xanne ORCID logoORCID:, Aubert, Salome, Carson, Valerie, Faulkner, Guy, Goldfield, Gary S., Reilly, John J. ORCID logoORCID:, Sampson, Margaret and Tremblay, Mark S.;