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Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Physical Activity in Very Low-Income Children


Fernald, Lia C. H.; Jones-Smith, Jessica C; .; Ozer, Emily J.; Neufeld, Lynette M.; & DiGirolamo, Ann M. (2008). Maternal Depressive Symptoms and Physical Activity in Very Low-Income Children. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 29(5), 385-393. PMCID: PMC2770096


Objective: To test the contribution of maternal depression during late infancy to physical activity in children 5 years later.
Method: Children (n = 168) from very low-income households in semiurban Mexico were assessed as toddlers (15 months, Time 1) and at pre-school age (4-6 years, Time 2). Child low activity level (<20 minutes of activity daily for <7 d/wk) at Time 2 was the primary outcome measure and maternal depressive symptoms (Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale) by self-report at Time 1 was the primary independent variable. Covariates tested included child age, sex, BMI percentile, television viewing and behavior (Behavior Problem Index subscales), current maternal depressive symptoms, age, BMI and physical activity level, and family socioeconomic status; all covariates were assessed at Time 2 except for socioeconomic status.
Results: At 4 to 6 years old, 27.5% of children were categorized with low activity level. Exposure to high maternal depressive symptoms at child age 15 months was associated with an increased risk of having a low activity level at age 4 to 6 years (OR, 2.38; 95% CI, 1.05-5.40); results were unchanged with the inclusion of current maternal depressive symptoms. High child TV viewing was significantly associated with low activity level (OR, 5.44; 95% CI, 2.06-14.3), but did not change the effect of maternal depressive symptoms in early childhood. Tests of mediation revealed that current child internalizing behavior, but not externalizing behavior, significantly attenuated the association between early high maternal depressive symptoms and later childhood activity level.
Conclusion: Exposure to maternal depressive symptoms in late infancy is a risk factor for low activity level in later childhood and the association may be mediated by child internalizing factors.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics


Fernald, Lia C. H.
Jones-Smith, Jessica C
Ozer, Emily J.
Neufeld, Lynette M.
DiGirolamo, Ann M.