Among the various psychological determinants of physical activity (PA) in early childhood, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of parent beliefs in the benefits of PA for their child. Believing that PA is beneficial may impact parent behavior, resulting in more opportunities for PA in early childhood, particularly among children with neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDs) who may face more barriers to PA. Greater opportunity for PA may promote the development of motor skills and healthy body composition.
This study examined the association between parental beliefs about PA and children’s weight status in a sample of 147 children (32 ± 4 months old) with NDs. The proportion of parents with below average (mean − 1SD) perceptions of the benefits of PA whose children were overweight or obese was approximately was 2.5 times (proportion ratio, 2.35; 95% CI, 1.05–5.27) larger than it was for parents with above average (mean + 1SD) perceptions (after adjusting for the confounding effects of ethnicity, marital status, and mothers’ self-reported depressive symptoms). Mothers’ self-reported depressive symptoms was the only other covariate that was significantly associated with the weight status of these children, though, these data also signal possible (p = 0.07) differences in proportions between Hispanic/Latinx and White children in the sample who were classified as overweight and obese.
Our study demonstrates the importance of considering parental or caregiver beliefs in the value of PA as another risk factor that may predict risk for overweight and obesity. Future studies should include parental beliefs in the benefits of PA as a potential psychological determinant of PA and associated health outcomes.