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Preschooler - Physical Activity

​​​​​Information about the onset and patterns of risk behaviors associated with overweight and obesity during preschool years are showcased in the link below. Visit section Desired Behaviors to learn about how to promote healthy active living during the preschool years. ​


Desired Behaviors

​Based upon evidence, a number of desired bevaiors were identified as critical to helping families foster healthy active living for their preschooler. For each desired behavior you can explore the evidence, learn what parents told us about these behaviors, identify opportunities to promote healthy behaviors at the point of care, review how to start conversations and access messages and resources to support families. Also available to inform your counseling is the Onset and Patters of Risk and Behaviors for Preschoolers Timeline located above this section. 

Acti​ve Play

Make time in your routine for active play every day. 


    Many children less than 5 years of age fail to meet the physical activity CDC guideline of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day.

    Sedentary activity for young children has been shown to range from 32.8 to 56.3 minutes per hour.

    Young children are not automatically active. Studies show that 3 to 5 year old children spend over 30% of their time awake in sedentary activities.

    Some research indicates that 2 to 5 year olds should engage in 2 or more hours per day of physical activity.

    Play spent outdoors in this age group seems to yield more active play than when play occurs indoors.

    Parent Feedback

    Parents believed that their children are getting physical activity at school or childcare.

    At the same time, parents saw value in focusing time on physical activity, and wanted ideas and strategies for developmentally appropriate activity.

    Opportunities for Care

    ​A knowledge gap exists about the need for preschoolers to be active.

    Educate parents that preschoolers need both structured and non-structured opportunities for physical activity. Emphasize the important window to develop large motor skills and foster coordination.

    Share developmentally appropriate strategies for active play time.

    It is also important to remember that body awareness and large and fine motor skills are important aspects of school readiness. Fostering these skills through active play is a great way to hone these skills.

    Conversation Starters

    ​​What kind of activities does your preschooler enjoy?

    Did you know that preschoolers need to be active for at least an hour a day?  Do you have any ideas how you might get this amount of activity into your routine?

    Can you tell me about outdoor play spaces that are safe for your preschooler?

    Can you tell me about the kinds of physical activity your child gets at school?

    When your preschooler is with friends, what kind of activity do they like to do?

    Related Parent Resources

    HALF Message:
    Activities like running, dancing, and climbing are an important part of your growing child’s development. Good exercise habits start early in life, so make active time fun every day!

    HALF Resources:
    For realistic parent derived strategies for making activity a part of the daily routine, refer parents to the following sections on

        Quick Tips: Keep Your Child Healthy widget. Simply select Physical Activity to generate the results.

        Physical Activity Preschoolers​

    Also take advantage of the HealthyGrowth app to create personalized patient education for your patient.

Sc​​reen T​​​ime

Limit TV exposure to less than 2 hours/day
Avoid commercials and advertisements
No TVs in children's bedrooms
Avoid snacking while watching TV


    In children aged 2-5, exposure to more than 2 hours per day of television/videos significantly increases the risk for obesity.

    Televisions in children’s bedrooms increase the impact of television on weight status.

    For each 1 hour increase in TV viewing, 3-year olds had increased intake of sugar sweetened beverages, fast food and red and processed meat. Their total energy intake and percent of energy from trans fat also increased.

    Increased TV time was also associated with lower fruit and vegetable, calcium, and fiber intake.

    Most children under age 6 cannot distinguish between programming and advertising.

    Television food advertising increases children’s preferences for the foods advertised and their requests to parents for those food.

    Children eat more when they see food advertising than when they see other types of commercials.

    44% of 2-to 4-year-olds have TVs in their bedroom.

    73% of 2- to 4-year-olds watch TV every day.

    Children age 5-8 spend an average of 3 hours a day watching television.

    Parent Feedback

    TV was viewed as educational, and almost like preschool at home.

    Screen time was also viewed as down time or break time (a way to keep the child still and get things done).

    Any messages to avoid TV and other educational games via smart phones, tablets, computers, etc., need to be realistic.

    Opportunities for Care

    ​​It is important to ascertain current family values around TV and offer alternatives to TV time.

    Remind them that one of the best ways for children to learn is through play and human interaction.
    For this age group, help parents identify ways to limit:

        the amount of TV watched,
        exposure to advertisements,
        set limits around gaming (on screen)
        eating while watching TV

    Caution against:

        placing a TV in their child’s bedroom
        replacing TV time with screen time (smart phones/tablets/computer)
        “educational gaming “ and “educational TV”

    Offer strategies to limit TV viewing and gaming on any screen – (TV, tablet, computer, or console) early on, so that the child grows up with a set of expectations/rules around TV and gaming.

    Conversation Starters

    ​​Can you tell me about your preschooler and TV watching and computers?

    Tell me about the kind of TV your preschooler watches?

    Can you tell me who decides what shows your preschooler watches?

    Does your child enjoy computer time or play on your phone or tablet?

    Did you know that commercials are a link between TV watching, weight gain, and unhealthy eating habits? Would you like to talk about ways to reduce exposure to commercials?

    Where does your child eat snacks when they are at home?

    Related Parent Resources

    HALF Message(s):
    It was hard enough when parents had to make decisions about TV time. Parents today are faced with “screen time” — TV, computers, smart phones, video games, and iPads!

    If screen time has gotten a bit out of control in your home, you are not alone. We understand that managing it can be a struggle. Keep in mind that even if you can’t cut out screen time completely, cutting back will help.

    HALF Resources:
    For realistic parent derived strategies for managing screen time, refer parents to the following sections on

        Quick Tips: Keep Your Child Healthy widget. Simply select Screen Time to generate the results.

        Physical Activity for Preschoolers ​

    Also take advantage of the HealthyGrowth app​​ to create personalized patient education for your patient.