Summary: While it might be annoying, fidgeting can help a child to maintain a healthy weight. Researchers report children who fidget use up energy amounting to almost 3kg (6.6lb) of body weight per year.
Source: University of Strathclyde
Children are often told off for fidgeting – but a study involving the University of Strathclyde has found that it could help them to use up energy amounting to nearly 3kg body weight a year.
Forty children took it in turns to spend just over an hour in an observation room and had their calorie expenditure measured while they took part in a range of activities, including watching television, playing with toys on the floor, drawing and coloring in.
Researchers recorded their shifts in posture, which took forms including sitting, standing and lying down. These shifts were found to have had a noticeable impact on the activity energy expenditure (AEE) of the children, who were mostly aged between four and five.
The researchers concluded that such fidgeting activity could have “meaningful” biological or health effects in early childhood. While the individual fidgeting acts were in themselves small, their cumulative effect over the longer term could have a significant impact on body fat levels.
The study is published in the journal PLOS One. It was carried out in Australia and also involved researchers from two Australian institutions, Deakin University in Melbourne and the University of Wollongong.
Professor John Reilly, of Strathclyde’s School of Psychological Sciences & Health, was a partner in the study. He said: “There’s a growing scientific interest in the benefits of breaking up sedentary behavior with spells of standing or walking but there has been very little research into the energy used in changes in posture – also known as ‘fidgeting.’
“Fidgeting in adults has been found to consist mainly of things like tapping hands or feet but children make bigger whole-body movements when they fidget and they also fidget more often than adults.”
“Understanding the relationship between these transitions in posture and expenditure of energy could help to explain differences between the amounts of energy children use. This is a comparatively small-scale study but could be significant when the amount of time in which children are sedentary adds up over days, weeks and months. The difference between children who fidgeted the most and fidgeted the least could, for a child weighing 20kg, equate to nearly 3kg of body weight a year.”
“However, children need to be physically active and fidgeting is no substitute for this.”
The highest number of posture transitions were seen while the children were playing with toys and the lowest while they were watching television.
There were no statistically significant differences between boys and girls for the number of transitions.
The children participating in the study had an average height of 112.9 cm (3ft 8.4 in) and an average weight of 20.6 kg (3st 3.3 lb). They were not preselected for any tendency to have low or high rates of fidgeting.
The study reflects Good Health and Wellbeing, which is among the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The University of Strathclyde is a signatory to the Goals, which the UN has set to pursue justice, peace, good health, responsible use of resources and the eradication of poverty and hunger.
University of Strathclyde
John Reilly – University of Strathclyde
The image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Open access
“Energy expenditure associated with posture transitions in preschool children”. Katherine L. Downing , Xanne Janssen, Dylan P. Cliff, Anthony D. Okely, John J. Reilly.
PLOS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0215169
Energy expenditure associated with posture transitions in preschool children
Despite growing scientific interest in the benefits of breaking up sedentary time with intermittent standing or walking, few studies have investigated the energy cost of posture transitions. This study aimed to determine whether posture transitions are associated with increased energy expenditure in preschool children.
Forty children (mean age 5.3 ± 1.0y) completed a ~150-min room calorimeter protocol involving sedentary, light, and moderate- to vigorous-intensity activities. This study utilised data from ~65-min of the protocol, during which children were undertaking sedentary behaviours (TV viewing, drawing/colouring in, and playing with toys on the floor). Posture was coded as sit/lie, stand, walk, or other using direct observation; posture transitions were classified as sit/lie to stand/walk, sit/lie to other, stand/walk to other, or vice versa. Energy expenditure was calculated using the Weir equation and used to calculate individualised MET and activity energy expenditure (AEE) values. Spearman’s rank correlations were used to compare the number of posture transitions, in the individual activities separately and combined, with corresponding MET and AEE values. Participants were divided into tertiles based on the number of posture transitions; MET and AEE values of children in the lowest and highest tertiles of posture transitions were compared using unpaired t-tests. Effect sizes (Cohen’s d) were calculated.
There was a positive correlation between the total number of posture transitions and average METs (rs = 0.42, p = 0.02) and AEE (rs = 0.43, p = 0.02). MET differences between the lowest and highest tertiles of posture transitions resulted in a small effect size for playing with toys (d = 0.27), and moderate effect sizes for TV viewing, drawing and all three activities combined (d = 0.61, 0.50 and 0.64 respectively). Similar results were found for AEE.
Results from this study showed that variation in posture transitions may be associated with variation in energy expenditure in preschool children. The findings suggest that the concept that variation in posture transitions may have meaningful biological or health effects in early childhood is worth investigating further.