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August 20, 2015

Toronto researchers shed new light on stroller use in young families

TORONTO – For many parents of young children, the stroller is one of their must-have, and most used, pieces of baby gear. With the recent focus on physical activity levels of young children, policymakers have moved toward advising parents to limit stroller use to promote opportunities for exercise. However, no published research to date has actually examined why and how strollers are used in the transportation and care of babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

In the first study of its kind, a Toronto research team has gone right to the source – parents – to understand their habits and perceptions of stroller use and its relationship with children’s physical activity. The research is published online Aug. 20 in the journal BioMed Central Public Health.

The research team found that stroller use is actually a complex behaviour, as it can enable both physical activity and sedentary behaviour in children.

The study was conducted by TARGet Kids! (The Applied Research Group for Kids!), a primary-care, practice-based research network established by The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and St. Michael’s Hospital. As an initial qualitative study, the team interviewed 14 parents of children aged one to five at two urban primary care paediatric practices.

“Despite the widespread use of strollers, experts have never asked parents about how they use these popular pieces of equipment,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Catherine Birken, Staff Paediatrician and Associate Scientist at SickKids. “We wanted to hear from parents directly to understand the role strollers play in their daily lives. Parents described many different uses and contexts for strollers, including some that may increase opportunities for outdoor exploration and play, while others may decrease outdoor exploration and play.”

The most common reasons for stroller use included:

  • Transportation
  • Storage
  • Supervision/confinement
  • Parent’s physical activity

Among the factors that influenced most parents’ decision to use a stroller were:

  • Convenience
  • Distance to destination
  • Family lifestyle
  • Child preference

Notably, most parents believed stroller use did not affect their children’s physical activity levels and reported other efforts to create opportunities for physical activity.

This small, preliminary study is the first step in improving experts’ understanding of stroller use, Birken explains. Ongoing studies related to strollers include measuring stroller use through direct observation, and evaluating how different stroller habits may impact children’s health.

“As guidelines related to the promotion of healthy active living in children continue to evolve, the context of stroller use should be considered,” says Birken, who is also Associate Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto. “If parents are using strollers as a means of transportation to the park, we don't want to inadvertently reduce children’s opportunities for outdoor play by recommending reduced stroller use; likewise we want to encourage walking and discourage the use of strollers to restrain children for prolonged periods.”

The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and SickKids Foundation.

This paper is an example of how SickKids and St. Michael’s Hospital are contributing to making Ontario Healthier, Wealthier and Smarter www.healthierwealthiersmarter.ca.   

About The Hospital for Sick Children
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally.  Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca.

For more information, please contact:

Suzanne Gold
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 202059
suzanne.gold@sickkids.ca      

Caitlin McNamee-Lamb
The Hospital for Sick Children
416-813-7654, ext. 201436
caitlin.mcnamee-lamb@sickkids.ca