Researcher to look into physical activity in children's first year to set them up for lifelong health

Study is one of five U of A projects being funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

A University of Alberta researcher's project looking into the effect physical activity has in infants during their first year of life is one of 26 projects to receive funding from the federal government as part of an initiative to help protect the health of mothers and promote the lifelong health of children.

Valerie Carson, a physical activity researcher in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, will use the grant money from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to study how activities such as tummy time and sedentary behaviour affect the health, growth and development of infants and toddlers.

"The development that occurs in children's first five years is critical for lifelong health," said Carson. "Participating in healthy physical activity and sedentary behaviour practices as early as infanthood could help stimulate an optimal trajectory of growth and development."

To support caregivers and other stakeholders in promoting healthy growth and development during these formative years, Carson recently co-led a project that developed and released Canada's first 24-hour movement guidelines for the early years. The guidelines integrate recommendations for physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep.

"Essentially, my team will be looking at what we should be doing as parents and caregivers at this early stage of life to set our children up for optimal development," she said.

Carson will examine associations over time of physical activity, or tummy time and sedentary behaviour such as screen time. She will also look at the effect of reading with a caregiver and extended time spent restrained, such as in car seats or strollers, on the attainment of gross motor milestones in the first 18 months of life.

Through a partnership with Alberta Health Services, she will recruit 250 families with infants across Edmonton at immunization appointments over the next 18 months for the study.

"At the end of this three-year study, our research findings will help inform future guideline updates as well as health promotion campaigns and interventions that support a healthy start for our youngest Canadians," she said.

Randy Boissonnault, member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre, was on campus to announce the grants, worth $1.67 million, on behalf of Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor to make the announcement.

Walter Dixon, interim U of A vice-president of research, said health and life sciences research helps improve the lives and well-being of people and societies.

"Healthy people and societies begin with healthy women, infants, children and youth-all of which are the focus of the research grants announced today. Outcomes of this research will help improve maternal health as well as improve the health, lives and futures of infants, children and youth in Alberta, Canada and around the world," he said.

The funding was part of the CIHR New Investigator Grants in Maternal, Reproductive, Child and Youth Health.

Four other U of A researchers shared in the new investigator grants:

Amit Bhavsar
Mitigating cisplatin-induced ototoxicity in childhood cancer treatment through applied pharmacogenomics

Kate Storey
Sleeping soundly: Understanding the translation of sleep promotion at school to sleep behaviours at home. Insights from children and parents

Shokrollah Elahi
The immune pathogenesis of neonatal infection: Relevance to digestive health

Michael Hawkes
Neuroprotective agents for cerebral malaria