BACKGROUND: Prevalence estimates internationally suggest that many preschool-aged children (3-5 years) are insufficiently physically active and engage in high levels of screen-based entertainment. Early childhood is the developmental period for which we know the least about the effects of physical activity on development and health. Likewise, rapid technological advancements in mobile electronic media have made screen-based forms of entertainment for young children ubiquitous, and research demonstrating the impacts on cognition, psychosocial well-being, and health has lagged behind the rate of adoption of these technologies. The purpose of the Preschool Activity, Technology, Health, Adiposity, Behaviour and Cognition (PATH-ABC) study is to investigate if physical activity and screen-based entertainment are independently associated with cognitive and psychosocial development, and health outcomes in young children, and if so, how much and which types of these behaviours might be most influential.
METHODS: The PATH-ABC study is a prospective cohort, aiming to recruit 430 3-5 year-old children. Children are recruited through and complete initial assessments at their Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) centre, and then 12-months later at their centre or school. Direct assessments are made of children's habitual physical activity using accelerometry, cognitive (executive function) and language development (expressive vocabulary), psychosocial development (emotional understanding, Theory of Mind, empathy, and heart rate variability), adiposity (body mass index and waist circumference), and cardiovascular health (blood pressure and retinal micro- vasculature). Educators report on children's psychological strengths and difficulties and self-regulation. Parents report on children's habitual use of electronic media and other child, parent and household characteristics.
DISCUSSION: The PATH-ABC study aims to provide evidence to enhance understanding of how much and which types of physical activity and screen-based media influence development and health in preschool-aged children. This information would benefit parents, educators, health professionals and governments seeking to develop strategies and policies to give young children the best start in life by promoting healthy levels of physical activity and electronic media use.