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BACKGROUND: Physical activity decreases through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood: parents of young children are particularly inactive, potentially negatively impacting their children's activity levels. This study aimed to determine the association between objectively measured maternal and 6-year-old children's physical activity; explore how this association differed by demographic and temporal factors; and identify change during the transition to school (from age 4-6). METHODS: Data were from the UK Southampton Women's Survey. Physical activity of 530 6-year-olds and their mothers was measured concurrently using accelerometry for ≤7 days. Cross-sectionally, two-level mixed-effects linear regression was used to model the association between maternal-child daily activity behaviour at age 6 [minutes sedentary (SED); in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA)]. Interactions with demographic factors and time of the week were tested; how the association differed across the day was also explored. Change in the association between maternal-child physical activity (from age 4-6) was assessed in a subset (n = 170) [outcomes: SED, MVPA and light physical activity (LPA)]. RESULTS: Mother-child daily activity levels were positively associated (SED: β = 0.23 [0.20, 0.26] minutes/day; MVPA: 0.53 [0.43, 0.64] minutes/day). The association was stronger at weekends (vs. weekdays) (interaction term: SED: βi = 0.07 [0.02, 0.12]; MVPA: 0.44 [0.24, 0.64]). For SED, the association was stronger for those children with older siblings (vs. none); for MVPA, a stronger association was observed for those who had both younger and older siblings (vs. none) and a weaker relationship existed in spring compared to winter. Longitudinally, the association between mother-child activity levels did not change for SED and LPA. At age 6 (vs. age 4) the association between mother-child MVPA was weaker across the whole day (βi: - 0.16 [- 0.31, - 0.01]), but remained similar at both ages between 3 and 11 pm. CONCLUSIONS: More active mothers have more active 6-year-olds; this association was similar for boys and girls but differed by time of week, season and by age of siblings at home. Longitudinally, the association weakened for MVPA between 4 and 6 years, likely reflecting the differing activities children engage in during school hours and increased independence. Family-based physical activity remains an important element of children's activity behaviour regardless of age. This could be exploited in interventions to increase physical activity within families.

Original publication




Journal article


Int j behav nutr phys act

Publication Date





Children, Mothers, Physical activity, Prospective, Sedentary