4363.0.55.001 - Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/07/2013   
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Contents >> Health risk factors >> Physical activity and sedentary behaviour >> Sedentary behaviour >> Child sedentary screen-based activity (2 to 17 years)



The National Physical Activity Recommendations for children cover two components, physical activity and screen-based activity. This topic focuses on the collection of screen-based activity data.

The current National Physical Activity Recommendations for 0-5 year olds recommend a maximum of one hour of screen-based activity per day - that is, electronic media such as DVDs, computer and other electronic games. The current National Physical Activity Recommendations for 5-12 year olds and the National Physical Activity Recommendations for 12-18 year olds recommend a maximum of two hours screen-based activity for entertainment/non-educational purposes a day. For this survey 18 year olds are not included with this age group and 5 year olds are included with the older age group.

To assess against these screen-based activity recommendations for these age groups, this topic covers time spent sitting or lying down for screen-based activities (or sedentary screen-based activities) including watching TV/DVDs and playing electronic games. In addition, for 5-17 year olds, use of the internet or computer for homework and non-homework purposes was collected.

The collection of screen-based data did not include active movements such as standing/dancing in front of the TV. If a child was physically active in front of the TV this was included in physical activity time. Sitting or lying down for non-screen-based activities - such as sitting to eat meals or do craft was not included. This topic therefore does not provide a complete measure of screen-based activities or of sedentary activities, but is restricted to screen-based activities for which the respondent was sitting or lying down.


Information was collected for selected persons aged 2 to 17 years in the NNPAS.


The collection methodology of this topic relied on respondent recall, and did not make use of a diary or other form of recording activities. Child/young person involvement in answering the questions was encouraged, but was not always possible. Please see the Interviews section of Data collection for more information on proxy use in the child physical activity module. A data item is available for respondents 6-17 years which identifies level of child/young person and proxy involvement in this topic.

In both the 2-4 years and 5-17 years physical activity modules, information on sedentary screen-based activities was collected as part of a seven day loop with physical activity questions, and included sitting or lying down to:

  • watch television, videos or DVDs
  • play any Playstation, Nintendo, X-Box, computer or handheld console games
  • use the computer or Internet (for homework and for other purposes) (5-17 years only).

For each of these components of sedentary screen-based activity, respondents were asked the total amount of time spent (hours and minutes) doing that activity on that day. If the respondent reported using a computer or Internet they were asked if any of this use was for homework, and if so the time used for homework. This information was then summed, excluding the time spent using the computer or Internet for homework, for each day to calculate whether a person met the screen-based activity recommendation. A child was considered to have met the recommendation for a given day if their activity totalled no more than 60 or 120 minutes (depending on their age). A second item, which includes homework, has also been derived and included for analysis purposes.

Where it was reported that more than one screen-based activity was occurring at a time, respondents were asked to report what the main activity was. For example, if playing a handheld console game in front of the television, they reported on which one had the main focus.

Data Items

The data items and related output categories for this topic are available in Excel spreadsheet format from the Downloads page of this product.


Points to be considered in interpreting data for this topic include the following:
  • The screen-based recommendations for the two age groups do not explicitly identify the requirement for the child to be sedentary. However, for this survey, the recommendation has been interpreted to be sedentary behaviour. Care should therefore be used if comparing with data which do not interpret the recommendations in this way.
  • Sedentary behaviour was based solely on screen-based activity and therefore did not include activities such as reading/story time, undertaking arts and crafts, or similar activity. Similarly, this topic does not collect a measure of total screen-based activity, as screen-based activity was only included if the respondent was sitting or lying down.
  • Screen-based recommendations for 5-17 years focus on use for entertainment purposes. Time spent using the computer or Internet for homework was asked separately, and could be excluded from recommendation calculations. However other non-entertainment screen-based activities may have been included by the respondent (for example, for educational purposes during school time). Data about time spent on the computer or Internet for homework is available as a separate item.
  • Accuracy of responses may vary with the proximity of the reporting day to the interview day. Analysis of data for 2-4 year olds by order of days reported indicated that there is no significant difference between the days for sedentary screen-based activity reported. Analysis of data for 5-17 year olds by order of days reported indicated that although there is a small decline in activities reported over the week (that is, a peak on the first day prior to interview and reducing slightly with greater distance from the interview day) this does not appear to have had an effect on patterns reported by day of week. The difference between day 1 average and the actual seven-day average suggests that the size of the under-estimates of weighted average time spent doing sedentary screen-based activity is around 13%.
  • If participation in two screen-based activities simultaneously was reported, respondents were asked to report only one so that total time doing sedentary screen-based activities could be calculated. As such, time participated in a single activity may not reflect the actual time using that device, as time spent may have been reported under another activity that was considered to be the focus at that time - for example, the television was on but time was reported under computer use as the respondent considered this to be their primary focus.
  • There were varying levels of child/young person participation in answering the questions, depending on age and parental permission. The accuracy of reports for activities occurring when the parent was not present (for example, activities during the school day) may therefore vary.
  • There has been an increasing emphasis on the restriction of sedentary behaviours for children/young people in recent years. This may have introduced bias with the reporting of socially desirable responses in some instances.

Comparability with other surveys

The specific questions used for this topic have not previously been used in an ABS survey. Similar data has been collected for children 5 to 14 years in the ABS Survey of Children’s Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities (released under cat. no. 4901.0), including time spent watching tv, playing game consoles and internet use.

Several surveys, both within Australia (at national and state level) and internationally, have attempted to capture data on levels of child/young person sedentary behaviour or screen-based activities. For example, the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children collected data for children on use of electronic devices (for home work and other purposes) including time spent on usual weekday/weekend day and using a time-use diary for the day prior to interview. The 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey collected diary data on 9 to 16 year olds, on use of electronic media, including television, video games and computer use and also measures against screen-based recommendations.

However, due to differences in collection methodologies (for example, use of diaries), reference periods (for example 2 weeks, 12 months), number and type of days reported on, and time exclusions (such as outside school hours) of these surveys, any comparisons with AHS data should be done with caution.

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