Toward a functional analysis of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in children

Document Type

Conference Presentation



Conference Title

Annual Meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis


Association for Behavior Analysis


Chicago, IL

Conference Dates

May 23-27, 2014

Date of Presentation



Physical activity, particularly moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), is an important class of health-related behavior for children and adults. Insufficient physical activity is risk factor associated with a host of medical problems, including hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and, more generally, obesity. To mitigate these risks, current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization state that children should engage in at least 60 minutes of MVPA per day. Unfortunately, recent estimates suggest that few children are this active. Various behavioral interventions have been developed to increase physical activity in children, but with mixed results. Many such studies involve indirect measures of behavior change and, even when change seems evident, suffer from relatively poor long-term intervention effects. More systematic research involving direct measures of behavior is warranted. Moreover, the kinds of pre-intervention functional analyses common in the behavior analysis literature are notably absent from the physical activity literature, perhaps explaining, at least in part, the less than robust intervention effects sometimes reported. This talk will describe a programmatic line of research that begins with the validation of direct measurement strategies for MVPA, progresses to pre-intervention experimental analyses of the environmental variables functionally related to MVPA, and currently involves intervention evaluations based on the outcomes of the pre-intervention analyses. The results of these studies suggest that physical activity can be accurately measured, pre-intervention experimental analyses can be used to identify specific variables that promote MVPA, and that this information can be used to develop interventions to increase MVPA.

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