SPEEDY children helping to build understanding of diet and activity

CEDAR continues to contribute to SPEEDY (Sport, Physical activity and Eating behaviour: Environmental Determinants in Young people).

A boy leaping into the airThis population based study focuses on children in schools in Norfolk. “Behaviour formed in childhood and adolescence can last a lifetime.” says Dr Esther van Sluijs, one of the lead investigators on SPEEDY. “The goal of this research is to help us identify specific factors that are associated with diet and physical activity behaviours in children. This information can then be used to help design interventions and policies that promote physical activity and healthy eating in children.”

SPEEDY 1, 2 and 3

The two initial data collections within SPEEDY looked at children aged nine and ten, funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI), with a follow-up study one year later funded by the MRC Epidemiology Unit. In 2011, the four year follow-up of the SPEEDY cohort was conducted, again funded by the MRC Epidemiology Unit.

This study enables us to examine behaviour during the transition from childhood to adolescence, and captures the important change from primary to secondary school. In addition, the specifically designed questionnaires and use of objective monitors (including global positioning system monitors) will allow a more detailed analysis of the influences on diet and physical activity behaviours during this critical period. Research in collaboration

“SPEEDY shows the benefits of CEDAR collaborations with other groups,” says Prof Andy Jones, another SPEEDY lead investigator. “A number of organisations have supported SPEEDY data collection over the years, and the dataset is now being made available to other researchers.” For example, the SPEEDY 1 dataset now forms part of the International Children Accelerometry Database (ICAD) which has collated data from across the world. Researchers external to CEDAR have been able to use the SPEEDY data to study questions related to their area of interest.

SPEEDY findings

We have conducted work on a new school audit measure that assesses the ‘physical activity friendliness’ of the school environment. Using this and other sources of information, we found that only a few factors in the school environment were associated with time spent in sedentary, moderate or vigorous activity, or with children’s weight. Also allowing children to play outside in wet weather during school break times is actually associated with lower activity levels than keeping them indoors. These findings have implications for school policy on play and the design of school grounds for wet weather. Within our work on active travel, we have shown that children who actively travel to school, for example by walking or cycling, have higher levels of overall physical activity than those using passive modes of travel such as being driven by car.

A large number of factors all have associations with active travel, including parents’ attitude, social support, level of socioeconomic deprivation, density of roads and streetlights, among others. Creating safe environments therefore has a role in promoting active travel and possibly physical activity. We have used information on SPEEDY participants’ food to examine the role of school and packed lunches in contributing to the quality of diet in children. We found that children who ate a school lunch generally had healthier diets overall than those bringing packed lunches. These findings have important implications for schools food policy and practice.