HALO Scientist Dr. Katie Gunnell was in San Diego California to present research and help with NASPSPA 50th anniversary. Katie served as a committee member for the sport and exercise psychology section of NASPSPA. While there, she gave a verbal presentation for research conducted in collaboration with Drs. Richard Larouche, Gary Goldfield, and Mark Tremblay. She also hosted a “beach side chat” for early career networking and moderated a verbal presentation session.

Presentation Title: “Physical activity, sedentary behaviour, body mass index, and mental health indicators: An investigation using direct measures and nationally representative data”

Authors: Katie E. Gunnell, PhD, Richard Larouche, PhD, Gary Goldfield, PhD, Mark S. Tremblay PhD


Background. Using convenience samples, researchers have demonstrated that body mass index (BMI) and behaviours such as physical activity, sedentary time, and screen time are related to indicators of mental health in children and youth. However, results may not generalize across all children and youth and previous findings may have been attenuated by measurement error related to the use of self-report questionnaires.

Purpose. Examine if accelerometer derived physical activity and sedentary time, BMI, and self-reported screen time are related to mental health indicators in a nationally representative sample of Canadian children and youth.

Methods. Participants were children aged 6-11 years (N=2,583) and youth aged 12-17 years (N=1724) from the Canadian Health Measures Survey (Cycles 1-3). Accelerometers were used to measure light and moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) and sedentary time. Weight and height were measured to calculate BMI (kg/m2). Mental health was assessed by parent responses on behalf of children to the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Logistic regression controlling for sex, parental education, and household income was employed.

Results. In children, 10 additional minutes of MVPA was related to 12% lower odds of peer relationship problems (OR=0.88, 95%CI[0.81, 0.96], p=.007). Conversely, an additional hour of screen time was related to 22% (OR=1.22, 95%CI[1.09, 1.36], p=.001) and 21% (OR=1.21, 95%CI[1.08, 1.36], p=.002) higher odds of peer relationship problems and total difficulties respectively. In youth, an additional hour of screen time was related to 26% (OR=1.26, 95%CI[1.13, 1.41], p<.001) and 24% (OR=1.24, 95%CI[1.07, 1.45,] p=.006) higher odds of hyperactivity/inattention problems and total difficulties, respectively. No other significant relationships were found.

Conclusions. Results indicate that children who accumulate more MVPA, and children and youth who accumulate less screen time have more favourable mental health indicators. Intervention research is needed to determine the direction of the relationship.