Alhassan to Implement Physical Activity Intervention for Preschool-Age Children
Sofiya Alhassan hopes to prove the benefits of a gross motor skill-based physical activity intervention.
Social determinants of health have a major impact on people’s health, well-being, and quality of life. Broadly put, the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks, contributing to wide health disparities and inequities.
This is particularly evident in preschool-age children (ages 3-5 years). Research has shown that being raised in a low socio-economic (SES) environment contributes to higher than average levels of inattention and lower self-regulation in preschoolers, as well as lower performance in cognition (executive function, memory) and gross motor skills. These environmental disadvantages place them at an increased risk for poor academic achievement and low physical activity levels.
To try to help overcome these challenges, Professor of Kinesiology Sofiya Alhassan is piloting a new gross motor skill-based physical activity intervention program in western Massachusetts preschool centers.
“We know that low SES preschoolers also show slower gross motor skill development,” says Alhassan. “Gross motor skills form the building blocks for a healthy and active lifestyle since these skills must be mastered before the development of more complex motor skills. Physical activity, including gross motor skills learning, enhance neural development, particularly the development of areas associated with cognitive functions, including the frontal cortex and hippocampus.”
With funding from a two-year, $429,744 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Alhassan will test whether improving gross motor skills will enhance cognitive functions in low-SES children. To do so, she’s partnering with preschool centers in low SES communities in the Greater Springfield area to implement a provider-taught gross motor skill-based physical activity intervention on cognition in preschool-age children.
“Given that most US preschool-aged children spend the majority of their day in preschool centers, these centers are uniquely positioned to help children establish healthy lifestyles,” notes Alhassan.
Participants will be randomly assigned to either a Movement and Cognition (MAC) or a control group. Intervention activities will be embedded into the Massachusetts early learning standard and implemented by trained classroom teachers.
Alhassan will collect data on executive function and memory, gross motor skills, and physical activity levels at baseline, 3-month, and 6-month intervals. She’ll also evaluate study fidelity and factors such as intervention dosage to examine the preliminary efficacy of the intervention.
If the intervention proves feasible, Alhassan plans to use the findings to support a subsequent large-scale randomized controlled trial to see if the intervention can affect sustained improvement in preschoolers' cognitive health and gross motor skills.
“The end goal,” says Alhassan, “is to establish a proven intervention that can be easily integrated into preschool early education learning standards and help us to level the playing field.”