Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Parental influences on child physical activity and screen viewing time: a population based study

Ben J Smith1*, Anne Grunseit2, Louise L Hardy2, Lesley King2, Luke Wolfenden3 and Andrew Milat4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health Social Science, Monash University, PO Box 197, Caulfield East, Melbourne, Victoria, 3145, Australia

2 Physical Activity Nutrition Obesity Research Group, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

3 Hunter New England Population Health and School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales, Australia

4 New South Wales Health Department, North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:593  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-593

Published: 8 October 2010



Parents can influence their children's physical activity participation and screen time.This study examined the relative significance of perceived parental barriers and self-efficacy in relation to children's physical activity participation and screen time viewing. The associations between these factors and the behaviours were analysed.


Cross-sectional population survey in New South Wales, Australia of parents of pre-school (N = 764), younger (Kindergarten, Grades 2 and 4; N = 1557) and older children (Grades 6, 8 and 10; N = 1665). Parents reported barriers and self-efficacy to influence their child's physical activity and screen time behaviours in a range of circumstances. Differences were examined by child's sex and age group, household income, maternal education and location of residence. The duration of physical activity and screen viewing was measured by parental report for pre-school and younger children and self-report for older children. Associations between parental factors and children's organised, non-organised and total activity and screen time were analysed.


Cost, lack of opportunities for participation and transport problems were the barriers most often reported, particularly by low income parents and those in rural areas. The number of barriers was inversely related to children's time spent in organised activity, but not their non-organised activity. Higher parental self-efficacy was positively associated with organised physical activity in the younger and older children's groups and the non-organised activity of older children. School-age children (younger and older groups) were less likely to meet physical activity guidelines when parents reported ≥4 barriers (OR 3.76, 95% CI 1.25-11.34 and OR 3.72, 95% CI 1.71-8.11 respectively). Low parental self-efficacy was also associated with the likelihood of children exceeding screen time guidelines for each age group (pre-school OR 0.62, 95% CI 0.43-0.87; young children OR 0.56, 95% CI 0.39-0.80; and older children OR 0.57, 95% CI 0.43-0.74).


Parental barriers are associated with the time that children spend in both active and sedentary pursuits. These findings highlight family, economic and environmental factors that should be addressed in programs to promote child physical activity and tackle sedentary behaviour.