Both individual socio-cultural determinants such as selected parental characteristics (migrant background, low educational level and workload) as well as the regional environment are related to childhood overweight and physical activity (PA). The purpose of the study was to compare the impact of distinct socio-cultural determinants such as the regional environment and selected parental characteristics on adiposity, PA and motor skills in preschool children.
Forty preschools (N = 542 children) of two culturally different urban regions (German and French speaking part of Switzerland) participated in the study (Ballabeina Study). Outcome measures included adiposity (BMI and skinfold thickness), objectively measured sedentary activities and PA (accelerometers) and agility performance (obstacle course). Parental characteristics (migrant status, educational level and workload) were assessed by questionnaire.
Children from the French speaking areas had higher adiposity, lower levels of total and of more intense PA, were more sedentary and less agile than children from the German speaking regions (percent differences for all outcome parameters except for BMI ≥10%; all p ≤ 0.04). Differences in skinfold thickness, sedentary activities and agility, but not in PA, were also found between children of Swiss and migrant parents, though they were ≤8% (p ≤ 0.02). While paternal workload had no effect, maternal workload and parental education resulted in differences in some PA measures and/or agility performance (percent differences in both: ≤9%, p ≤ 0.008), but not in adiposity or sedentary activities (p = NS). Regional differences in skinfold thickness, PA, sedentary activities and agility performance persisted after adjustment for parental socio-cultural characteristics, parental BMI and, where applicable, children's skinfolds (all p ≤ 0.01).
The regional environment, especially the broader social environment, plays a prominent role in determining adiposity, PA and motor skills of young children and should be implicated in the prevention of obesity and promotion of PA in children.