Pearson, N., Griffiths, P., Biddle, S.J.H., Johnston, J.P., McGeorge, S., & Haycraft, E.
BMC Public Health. 2017

BACKGROUND: Screen-time and unhealthy dietary behaviours are highly pervasive in young children and evidence suggests that these behaviours often co-occur and are associated. Identifying clusters of unhealthy behaviours, and their influences early in childhood, can assist in the development of targeted preventive interventions. The purpose of this study was to examine the sociodemographic, behavioural, and home physical environmental correlates of co-occurring screen-time and unhealthy eating behaviours and to assess the clustering of screen-time and unhealthy dietary behaviours in young children.
METHODS: Parents of 126 children, from the UK, aged 5–6 years (49% boys) completed a questionnaire which assessed their child’s screen-time (ST), fruit and vegetable (FV), and energy-dense (ED) snack consumption. Categories of health behaviours were created based on frequencies of children meeting recommendations for FV and ST and median splits of frequencies for ED snacks. Parents reported on their own behaviours (ST, FV, and ED snack consumption), how often they ate meals and watched TV with their child, and on the availability and accessibility of foods within the home. An observed over expected ratio (O/E) was used to assess behavioural clustering. Multivariable multinomial logistic regression was used to examine correlates of behaviour patterns.
RESULTS: Approximately 25% of children had two or three health risk behaviours. Correlates consistently associated with clusters included parental income, eating meals at the TV, parental ST and ED snack food consumption, and home availability of ED snack foods. Observed over expected ratios were close to 1 and ranged from 0.78 to 1.43. The three-risk behaviour combination of insufficient FV consumption, high ED snack consumption, and excessive ST occurred more frequently than expected (1.23 (95% CI 0.89, 1.58)).
CONCLUSIONS: ST and unhealthy dietary behaviours cluster in children as young as 5 years of age and parents’ own behaviours appear to be important influencing factors. Further research into the development of behavioural clustering in young children to identify and further understand the mechanisms underlying the synergy among health behaviours is needed. Feasibility interventions promoting reductions in both screen-time and unhealthy dietary behaviours reciprocally, while simultaneously focusing on changing parental behaviours, are warranted.

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