Effects of the Start For Life Treatment on Physical Activity in Primarily African American Preschool Children of Ages 3-5 Years

James J. Annesi, Kennesaw State University
Alice E. Smith, YMCA of Metropolitan Atlanta
Gisèle A. Tennant, YMCA Canada


In US children of ages 2–5 years, combined overweight and obesity has increased to 21%, with African American children of this age range highest at 26%. Lack of physical activity is highly predictive of overweight and obesity in children. Preschools may be a useful point for intervention. An innovative preschool physical activity treatment (Start For Life) was developed based on principles of social cognitive and self-efficacy theory. It incorporated 30 minutes daily of highly structured physical activity with behavioral and self-regulatory skills training (e.g. goal setting, self-monitoring, productive self-talk) interspersed. Data obtained from accelerometry was used to contrast physical activity outputs during the preschool day in the Start For Life condition (n = 202) with a usual-care control condition (n = 136). After controlling for age and sex of the primarily African American participants (M age = 4.7 years), changes over eight weeks in moderate-to-vigorous and vigorous physical activity were significant, and significantly more favorable in the Start For Life group; F(1, 344) = 4.98, p = .026 and F(1, 344) = 3.60, p = .058, respectively. Start For Life was associated with a weekly increase in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity of approximately 40 minutes. After sufficient replications that better account for different sample types, parental effects and physical activity outside of the school day, and long-term effects, widespread dissemination may be considered.