An examination of device-measured physical activity behaviours and mental health outcomes in Canadian children and youth with disabilities


Children and youth with disabilities (CYWD) are at an increased risk of experiencing poor mental health. Physical activity (PA) may be one method of improving mental health in CYWD. This study investigated the relationship between PA and mental health among CYWD. Step count and mental health data were collected from a larger national surveillance of PA in CYWD in Canada. 120 CYWD (Mage=10±3 years; 79% boys, 58% with developmental disability) wore a Fitbit for 28 days to measure their daily steps. Parents completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (scored as total difficulties score, internalizing problems, and externalizing problems). Generalized additive models with a smoothing function were computed to examine potential curvilinear relationships between average daily steps and indicators of mental health. CYWD averaged 9980±3807 daily steps. Mean scores for total difficulties (M=15.83±6.48), internalizing problems (M=7.31±3.86), and externalizing problems (M=8.53±3.98) were in the slightly raised categorization band. After adjusting for age, gender, race/ethnicity and household income, no significant association was found between average daily steps and total difficulties (F(1.52, 1.89) = 0.18, p = 0.83), internalizing problems (F(2.08, 2.66)=0.50, p=0.54), or externalizing problems (F(1, 1)=0.06, p=0.80). While the relationship between daily steps and mental health indicators was non-significant, further investigation is warranted into other aspects of activity that might relate to mental health, such as the quality of participation, or the accessibility and inclusivity of physical activity spaces for CYWD.

Acknowledgments: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities