By Shelby Chun Fat, Research Assistant, Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children
While the role of schools in promoting healthy behaviors is well-recognized, the support from cultural institutions is often overlooked. Museums, especially children’s museums, provide children with healthy lifestyle education and opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity. They can also provide families with guidance in promoting healthy behaviors outside of school and resources for schools to incorporate into their curriculum.
In the winter of 2014, CLOCC partnered with staff from Chicago Children’s Museum (CCM) to conduct an evaluation of children’s physical activity during museum visits. CCM wanted to better understand the physical-activity opportunities offered to child visitors and potentially use the study findings to communicate to visitors about the experience. They had hoped that it would also give them feedback in helping them identify opportunities to enhance and promote physical activity for children visitors.
Children ages 3 to 8 were given accelerometers (motion-detecting devices) to wear during their museum visit and had their height and weight measured in order to calculate body mass index (BMI). Adults accompanying the participating children were asked to complete a survey that included demographics, family background and exhibits visited.
Data analyzed included the average percentage and minutes that participants spent in three levels of physical activity: sedentary (e.g., sitting), light (e.g., walking) and moderate and vigorous (MVPA) (e.g., running).
Accelerometer data were collected from 96% of the child participants. The participants were racially and ethnically diverse, with Caucasians making up the largest group. Most child participants had normal weight status and most participants’ mothers had at least some college education. The average age of participants was 5.27 years, and the average museum visit was 2.11 hours long.
CCM visitor participants spent 67.6% of their visit in light activity, 21.3% in MVPA and 9.2% sedentary. A previous study (Brown et al) has shown that children in preschool centers spend about 8% of their average 5.5 hour preschool day in light activity, 3% in MVPA and 89% of their day sedentary. Compared to an average preschool day, a visit to CCM includes a significantly improved amount of physical activity.
There were no significant associations between the percent of the museum visit spent in MVPA and any of the individual or family characteristics, suggesting that CCM provides equitable access to physical activity opportunities for all visitor groups. In terms of exhibits, there was a variation in physical activity. Specifically, the more time spent in the Snow Much Fun exhibit, the greater the percent of visit time spent in MVPA. Furthermore, the more time spent in the Artabounds, Skyline, and Tinkering Lab exhibits, the lower the percentage their visit spent in MVPA.
Children’s museums focus on providing appropriate learning environments through experiential exhibits. CCM has taken the initiative of integrating children’s health into its institutional mission. Parents and other caregivers may wish to consider CCM or similar cultural institution visits as an opportunity to augment daily physical activity time for children.
For more information on CLOCC’s evaluation work, including the tools and services available to those working in obesity prevention or interested in evaluative consultation, visit the Research and Evaluation page.