Don’t stop your kid wriggling, they’re burning fat
They may drive their parents and teachers up the wall, but restless children are burning more energy - and avoiding unhealthy weight gain - than their peers who sit still.
A world-first Victorian study has found children who constantly wriggle while undertaking sedentary activities such as colouring in or watching TV burn off an extra 3kg over the course of a year.
Deakin University researchers found a huge difference in the fidgeting habits of children, with some swapping between sitting, standing, kneeling and lying up to 53 times in just 65 minutes, although others had only 11 "posture transitions" in the same time.
While the energy expended during each wriggle may be tiny, lead researcher Dr Katherine Downing said the flow-on impacts could help prevent unhealthy weight gain.
"These fidgeting changes in posture do actually have a significant impact on energy expenditure so perhaps we shouldn't be stopping those young kids from fidgeting so much," she said.
"Rather than getting kids to sit for really long periods of time, even if we just get them to stand up frequently - every 20-30 minutes - then we might have a significant impact on the energy expenditure."
The study of 40 children aged 4-6 saw each asked to complete sedentary activities in a room specially set up to measure energy expenditure by analysing their oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide exhalation, while the Deakin team closely tracked their movements.
Results published today in the journal PLOS ONE show children moved more while undertaking interactive activities such as drawing or playing with toys than when involved in passive pastimes including watching TV.
The physiological mechanism behind the energy burn is not yet understood, though Dr Downing said the difference between the relaxed and active state of skeletal muscle was thought to be crucial.
"If children are spending roughly 10 hours a day sitting then that impact could be about 3kg a year which, for a 20kg child, is about 15 per cent of their body weight," she said.
"We know habits that are formed for sitting and physical activity all track from early childhood, so children who spend long periods sitting when they are young are more likely to spend long periods sitting when they are older.
"If kids are naturally fidgeting, maybe that is just their way of burning off the extra energy and it will help them concentrate."