Psychology, 2010, 1, 151-158
doi:10.4236/psych.2010.13020 Published Online August 2010 (
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
Positive Development in Children and the
Precursors of Healthy Life-Styles: The Role of
Eating Regularity and Level of Leisure Activity
Silvia Ciairano1, Giulia Bardaglio2, Emanuela Rabaglietti1, Maria Fernanda Vacirca1
1Department of Psychology, University of Turin, Turin, Italy; 2SUISM – Scuola Universitaria Interfacoltà di Scienze Motorie, Centro
Ricerche in Scienze Motorie e Sportive, University of Turin, Turin, Italy.
Received May 15th, 2010; revised June 17th, 2010; accepted June 21st, 2010.
The two sides of children positive development, that is physical and psychological health, have been most often investi-
gated separately. We explored the relationships between not being overweight, respecting relational rules, regularity of
eating behavior (eating breakfast) and involvement in active (e.g. playing in team sport) or sedentary (e.g. playing at
videogames) leisure activities shared with friends. The study was conducted among 272 Italian children (52% female;
M age = 6.85 yrs) using a multi-informant design (children, parents and teachers of physical activity). Hierarchical
regression analyses revealed that regularity of eating breakfast (informed by parents) was associated to lower levels of
Body Mass Index (BMI) values (objectively measured) in girls. Involvement in sedentary leisure activity with friends
(informed by children) was negatively associated with respecting relational rules (evaluated by teachers of physical
activity) in boys. Thus, more or less active leisure activity and more or less healthy eating behaviour have some poten-
tial relevance for present and future general adjustment of boys and girls, and not only for their physical condition.
Implications for educational interventions are discussed.
Keywords: Children, Life-Style, Overweight, Leisure Activities
1. Introduction
There are at least two distinct sides to positive develop-
ment [1-3]. The first side of positive development refers
to physical health. In absence of other relevant patholo-
gies, we know that an individual’s body weight is a good
indicator of their present and future physical health con-
dition. We know that the problem of childhood obesity is
rapidly increasing in all Western societies [4]. The mani-
festation of childhood obesity is a very strong risk factor
for subsequent involvement in Type II Diabetes and for
various other pathologies, such as cardio-vascular dis-
eases [5].
The second side of positive development refers to
psychological health. Plenty of research has shown that a
good indicator of present and future psychological health
is an individual’s capacity to respect social rules, espe-
cially those related to relational aspects during childhood.
For instance, breaking the basic relational rule of not
being aggressive towards peers has been seen to result in
future maladjustment.
Nowadays adults often complain about having diffi-
culty in getting their children to respect social rules. The
lack of respect of social rules may assume various con-
figurations, from disobedience to aggressiveness and
victimization of peers. We note that public opinion and
the media are currently paying great attention to the latter
given the great negative, physical and psychological
consequences for the victims.
Although the two phenomena of obesity and trans-
gression of rules are usually investigated separately, we
would like to investigate them in the same study. We
know that there have been very few previous attempts to
investigate both phenomena concurrently. To our
knowledge one of the few studies that have analyzed
both variables in a single study is the very recent re-
search by Giletta et al. [6] that found a relationship be-
tween being overweight and bullying peers in a sample
of Dutch adolescents.
We know that the phenomena of obesity and of rules
transgression usually increases sharply after puberty and
Positive Development in Children and the Precursors of Healthy Life-Styles: The Role of Eating Regularity
and Level of Leisure Activity
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
during early adolescence. However we are more inter-
ested in investigating these phenomena during childhood,
when they are probably at their inception.
In this study we are curious to investigate whether or
not there are similarities between the predictors of the
two phenomena. Specifically, we think that in both cases
a crucial role is fulfilled by sedentary activity. We have
good theoretical reasons for anticipating the risk role of
sedentary activity, although the theories we would like to
employ have seldom been used before to explain behav-
iour in children. At first we will refer to the problem be-
haviour theory of Jessor et al.’s [7,8]. Secondly we will
refer to the constructs of organized activity and of initia-
tive of Larson [9].
1.1 The Precursors of Healthy Life Styles in
Childhood according to the Problem
Behavior Theory by Jessor
Although the theory by Jessor et al. is very well-known
in the field of adolescent psychology, we will summarize
it very briefly in order to individuate the aspects that can
be adapted to earlier developmental phases, and espe-
cially to individuate some precursors of more or less
healthy life-styles in childhood. Jessor and colleagues [7]
theoretical framework consists of three main notions.
The first notion, which is conceptually similar to the idea
of development as action in context [10], concerns the
fact that risk behavior, and especially that by adolescents,
is not a pathological answer to internal drives or external
stimulus. Rather, risk behavior depends upon the com-
plex balance across time among the system of the person,
which includes self-perception, attitudes, expectations,
and values; the system of the perceived environment,
which considers the relationships of the individual with
the three main developmental contexts of family, peers,
and school; and the system of behavior, which considers
both risk behavior and conventional behavior. Also in the
case of the children we can reasonably suppose that be-
havior depends upon the complex balance across time
among physical and psychological individual character-
istics, relationships with the developmental contexts of
family, peers, and school and behavior themselves, for
instance more active and/or more sedentary activity.
The second notion has to do with the fact that in each
one of the personality, perceived environment or behav-
ior systems some aspects are expected to fulfill the role
of protective factors, while other factors are expected to
work as risk factors. For instance respecting relational
rules and good quality of the relationships with the peers,
are expected to fulfill the role of protective factors, while
other factors, as sedentary activity, are expected to work
as risk factors. Generally speaking, risk factors may
weaken individuals resolve not to engage in different
kinds of risk behaviors. The three protective factors in
the model by Jessor et al. [11] are models protection,
controls protection, and support protection. Models pro-
tection encompasses parents’ and friends’ models for
health behavior. Health behaviors include diet and exer-
cise, which can be relevant for children too. Conven-
tional behaviors also include participation in sports. Con-
trols protection also includes the parental controls over
children behavior, such s promoting regularity of eating
and the respect of relational rules during childhood.
Support protection includes support from family, friends,
and other important adults in the children’ lives. Jessor et
al.’s [7,8] theoretical model emphasizes that the balance
among risk and protective factors contributes to the like-
lihood that the individual will engage in more health or
risky behavior, thus to his/her adjustment. The third no-
tion of the theoretical model by Jessor et al. [7] concerns
the presence of a constellation or a syndrome of risk be-
havior, that is to say that risk behaviors are likely to
co-occur: an individual who is engaged in one risk be-
havior (e.g., disturbed or irregular eating), also is likely
to be engaged in other risk behaviors (e.g., transgres-
1.2 Leisure and the Development of Initiative
We also refer to some theoretical cues drawn from the
literature about the potential role of organized leisure
activity, and among them especially sport, in developing
the individual capacity of initiative and in contributing to
the positive development of people.
Larson [12] has defined the time of leisure as the
fourth developmental context, together with the family,
the school and the peer group, for children and adoles-
cents. Leisure activity can be distinguished in organized
or structured and in not organized and un-structured. The
structured activities, which are generally leaded by adults,
are carefully organized for realizing specific tasks and
for acquiring capabilities and competences (such as in
sport). The not organized and un-structured activity are
all those kinds of situations that do not pursue the reali-
zation of specific tasks, the supervision of adults may
lack and they happen outside any institutional context of
meeting [13]. However both kinds of activity can be
more active (for instance playing at team sport) or more
sedentary (for instance playing at videogames). All chil-
dren and adolescents are more involved at different ex-
tent in these four kinds of activities. Participation at or-
ganized and active activity has been generally found as-
sociated with a more positive development of the indi-
viduals. In particular, various studies underlined that the
adolescents who participate at organized activity are less
involved in risk behavior and have higher levels of
self-efficacy [14,15].
Among all these activities, we are particularly inter-
ested in the kind of activity that can promote in children
and adolescents the personal capacity of initiative. Ac-
Positive Development in Children and the Precursors of Healthy Life-Styles: The Role of Eating Regularity
and Level of Leisure Activity
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
cording to Larson [9] the capacity of initiative is essential
for developing as full members of our complex society
and it will become even more important in the near fu-
ture. However, despite its importance, children and ado-
lescents have very few chances of learning and exercis-
ing this capability. In fact the normal experience of chil-
dren and adolescents at school and also during the leisure
time usually does not include all the necessary conditions
for learning it. In our opinion, this is particularly true
when they are involved in sedentary leisure activity. The
context that is more adequate for developing the capabil-
ity of initiative is that of volunteer but structured activity,
such as that of sport, in which children and adolescents
can experiment the rare combination between intrinsic
motivation and concentration.
In agreement with Larson and also with other scholars
[16] we believe that leisure activity, and particularly
sport activity, that are organized accordingly with the
above mentioned principles could represent a context
particularly favorable at the positive development of
children and youths. However, we also think that the
combination of positive psychological conditions, intrin-
sic motivation and concentration could be individuated,
at least partially, in more spontaneous kind of leisure
activity. For instance when children meet in the courts of
their houses during their free time and they organize
spontaneously and by themselves for playing team sport
with their peers. On the contrary we think that especially
during childhood participation at un-structured and sed-
entary kinds of leisure activity could have negative con-
sequences not only for the future development of the
capability of initiative but also for the present and future
physical health, that is in term of overweight, and for the
psychosocial adjustment, especially in term of dimin-
ished possibility of developing social competence in-
cluding that of respecting relational rules. A sedentary
and passive type of leisure activity is unlikely to repre-
sent the adequate context for promoting social compe-
tence [17].
1.3 The Present Study
On the basis of the above mentioned theories, we ex-
pected that regularity of eating, and spontaneous leisure
activity, active or sedentary, would emerge as possible
precursors of more or less healthy life-styles during
childhood. More specifically, we expected to find that
regularity of eating (in terms of breakfast) and active
spontaneous leisure activity would work as protective
factors and thus would be associated to a more positive
development of children in terms of both being not
overweight and being able to respect relational rules in a
social context, which we considered as two possible in-
dicators of adjustment. Conversely, we expected to find
that sedentary spontaneous leisure activity would work as
a risk factor and that it would be associated with a less
positive child development, in terms of being overweight
and not respecting relational rules, which we considered
lack of children adjustment.
However, considering that we were unaware of previ-
ous research about similar relationships between poten-
tial precursors of healthy life-style and positive devel-
opment or adjustment in childhood, our study was mainly
exploratory, especially with respect to the possibility of
observing gender differences. In summary we asked two
key questions in this study:
1) Were there mean level differences between boys
and girls on measures of physical and psychosocial posi-
tive development, and precursors of protective factors
and risk factors? As anticipated this is mainly an ex-
ploratory study, however we would expect to find few
differences. More specifically, and on the bases of stud-
ies on adolescents, we anticipated that girls would be
more likely to respect relational rules [18] and that boys
would be more likely to be involved in both sedentary
and active kinds of leisure activity [19,20].
2) Did the same precursors of risk and protective fac-
tors account for variation in indicators of positive devel-
opment in children in both the subsamples of boys and
girls? We expected to find similar relationships with re-
spect to both indicators of childhood adjustment in boys
and girls. However, considering that the emergence of
eating problems at later stages of development are gener-
ally more common in girls and conversely that transgres-
sion is more diffuse among boys, we expected to find
some gender differences with respect to the patterns of
relationships between indicators of adjustment and pre-
cursors of protective and risk factors.
2. Method
2.1 Participants
Participants were 272 children aged 6 to 8 (M = 6.85, SD
= 0.71; 53% females) attending six primary schools in
Cuneo, Italy. The majority of the children’s parents (43%
of fathers and 57% of mothers) had a high school di-
ploma. 24% of fathers and 17% of mothers had a univer-
sity degree. Most parents (99% of fathers, 78% of moth-
ers) were employed. Regarding family structure, 92% of
the parents lived together, and 8% were separated or di-
vorced. These figures of socio-demographic information
are similar to those found in the general population from
the same Italian province, which is one among those at
lower level of un-employment in Italy [21].
2.2 Procedure
As previously stated, the study was conducted in six
primary schools in Cuneo, Italy. A random sample of
public primary schools was invited to participate in the
study and all schools contacted agreed to do so. Classes
Positive Development in Children and the Precursors of Healthy Life-Styles: The Role of Eating Regularity
and Level of Leisure Activity
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
within the schools were then randomly selected and all
classes contacted accepted to take part in the study. Fi-
nally, all the parents contacted provided consent for chil-
dren to participate, and children themselves assented to
participate in accordance with Italian law and the ethical
code of the Professional Psychologists Association in
Italy. In addition, the children took the questionnaire
home to their parents. 96% of the parents completed the
questionnaire about socio-demographic information and
children’s behavior and returned it back the following
week; the questionnaire was completed 57% by mothers,
13% by fathers and 26% by both parents. We did not find
any relevant differences between the children of the par-
ents who filled in the questionnaire and those who did
not with respect to the other information under study.
Finally, the teachers of physical activity, who were 6
and who were all graduated in physical activity and spe-
cially trained for coaching children, observed and regis-
tered the children’s behavior about respecting relational
rules as regard to teachers, and classmates. This was ac-
complished by way of a check-list and they measured the
children’s Body Mass Index by way of an electronic
balance during the initial session of an experimental
study which will ultimately evaluate the effectiveness of
the introduction of a special program of physical activity
which we will consider in a future paper.
Both the children’s and parents’ questionnaires took
approximately 30 minutes to complete. The observation
of children’ behavior took approximately 60 minutes to
complete. Both children and parents were assured of
confidentiality and anonymity. Teachers were not present
in the classroom during the questionnaire administration
for the children. No incentives were offered for partici-
pation; however 100% of the children completed the
2.3 Measures
Leisure activity. Sedentary and active leisure activity
were assessed using two simplified items (selected be-
cause of children’s young age) that asked children to
answer whether or not they usually spend time with their
friends, 1) doing active things such as playing in the
court or at team sport; 2) doing sedentary things such as
playing at videogames or watching TV.
Regularity of breakfast. The regularity of children’
breakfast was assessed using one item that asked parents
whether their children usually eat breakfast and ranging
from 1 - Never to 4 - Always.
Respect of relational rules by children. This item was
assessed on the basis of the evaluation of the teachers of
physical activity using a simple check-list. The check-list
contains the names of the children on the rows and three
columns with the space for the information about respect
of relational rules. During one hour of physical activity
and working in couples, scored each child was with 3 if
he/she always respected some relational rules, with 2 if
he/she respected them only partially and with 1 if he/she
never respected them. The relational rules considered in
the check-list were about: a) respecting the turn of the
others; b) giving the other children enough space to move
for doing their exercises. The score attributed by each
teacher to each child were summed up.
Body Mass Index. This item was assessed by the
teachers of physical activity by way of an electronic bal-
ance, which measured height and weight and calculated
the Body Mass Index automatically.
3. Results
3.1 Descriptive Analyses
Table 1 presents descriptive information of the sample and
correlations among the variables by gender. To assess for
gender differences on the study variables, we used t-tests
for independent samples. There were no gender differ-
ences in mean levels of Body Mass Index, regularity of
breakfast, and active leisure activity. However, girls (M =
5.75, SD = 0.61) reported more respect of relational rules
than boys (M = 4.86, SD = 1.04), t(262) = 8.56, p < 0.001.
Boys, relative to girls, reported higher levels of sedentary
leisure activity (M = 0.76, SD = 0.43 for boys; M = 0.66,
SD = 0.48, for girls; t(270) = 1.97, p < 0.05).
Furthermore girls and boys showed a different pattern
of inter-correlations among indicators of adjustment and
precursors of healthy life-style. In girls Body Mass Index
was negatively associated with regularity of breakfast
and positively associated with sedentary leisure activity.
In boys Body Mass Index and respect of relational rules
were negatively associated between each other, and re-
spect of relational rules was negatively associated with
sedentary leisure activity. Also on the basis of these dif-
ferent patterns of relationships, we decided to perform
the following analyses separately for boys and girls.
3.2 Relationships among Body Mass Index,
Respect of Relational Rules, Eating
Behavior and Leisure Activity
To test the relationships among Body Mass Index and
respect of relational rules, and among regularity of
breakfast, and active and sedentary leisure activity, we
used Hierarchical Linear Regression Models.
In the regression models (one for each outcome and
separately for boys and girls), we entered regularity of
breakfast in Step 1, active leisure activity in Step 2, and
finally sedentary leisure activity in Step 3.
3.3 Children’ Body Mass Index and Precursors
of Life-Style
Only the model with girls achieved a significant propor-
Positive Development in Children and the Precursors of Healthy Life-Styles: The Role of Eating Regularity
and Level of Leisure Activity
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
tion of explained variance: R2 = 0.11, F(3, 140) = 5.67, p
< 0.0001 with the coefficient of regularity of breakfast
significant (see Table 2). This means that in the female
sample, children who were more regular in doing their
breakfast also had lower Body Mass Index that is they
were less likely to be overweight.
In the male sample, we found a positive relationship
between Body Mass Index and sedentary leisure activity.
However, this relationship did not reach significance.
3.4 Children’s Respect of Relational Rules and
Precursors of Life-Style
Only the model with boys achieved a significant propor-
tion of explained variance: R2 = 0.08, F (3, 116) = 3.35, p
< 0.02 with the coefficient of involvement in sedentary
leisure activity proving significant (see Table 3). This
means that in the male sample, children who were more
involved in sedentary leisure activity also had lower
Table 1. Intercorrelations among and descriptive informa-
tion of body mass index (BMI), respect of rules, regularity
of breakfast, active and sedentary leisure activity (males are
below the diagonal)
1 2 3 4 5
1. BMI –– 0.03 –0.21** 0.010.14*
2. Respect of rules –0.22** –– –0.07 0.13–0.03
3. Regularity breakfast –0.04 0.01 –– –0.05–0.07
4. Active Leisure
Activity 0.06 –0.14 0.04 –– 0.01
5. Sedentary Leisure
Activity 0.06 –0.26** –0.04 0.05––
M (males) 16.65 4.86 3.64 0.770.76
SD (males) 2.04 1.04 0.82 0.420.43
M (females) 16.64 5.75 3.73 0.740.66
SD (females) 2.65 0.61 0.61 0.440.48
Notes: *p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01
Table 2. Hierarchical regression results predicting body
mass index (BMI)
Females Males
Predictors Β ΔR² β ΔR²
Step 1
Regularity breakfast –0.31** 0.10** –0.010.00
Step 2
Active Leisure
–0.05 0.00 0.020.00
Step 3
Sedentary Leisure Activ-
0.09 0.01 0.110.01
Note: *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01
Table 3. Hierarchical regression results predicting respect
of rules
Females Males
Predictors Β ΔR² β ΔR²
Step 1
Regularity breakfast –0.01 0.00 –0.090.01
Step 2
Active Leisure Activity 0.11 0.01 –0.140.01
Step 3
Sedentary Leisure Activity–0.04 0.00 –0.23*0.06*
Note: *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01
levels of respect of relational rules that is they were less
likely to respect these rules.
No other relationship reached significance neither in
the female sample, nor in the male sample.
4. Discussion
The present study investigated whether regularity of eat-
ing (in terms of breakfast) and spontaneous active leisure
activity functioned as protective factors; that is, if they
were associated to a more positive development of chil-
dren in terms of both not being overweight and of being
able to respect relational rules in a social context. Be-
sides, we investigated whether sedentary spontaneous
leisure activity worked as risk factor; that is if it was as-
sociated with less positive child development. Finally we
explored the presence of gender differences in both the
mean levels and patterns of relationships among indica-
tors of children’s adjustment and precursors of more or
less healthy life-styles.
Although this was mainly an exploratory study, we
expected that girls were more likely to respect relational
rules and that boys were more involved in both kinds of
leisure activity. Our findings confirmed the majority of
these expectations: girls respected relational rules more
than boys and boys were more involved in sedentary lei-
sure activity with their friends. Nonetheless, we note that
these findings must be considered with caution for the
reasons we will list in the limitations section. However,
we also think that these descriptive results deserve some
reflection especially considering that we are unaware of
previous studies on similar subjects. Firstly, we think that
is interesting to observe that some gender differences that
are generally found in adolescence, such as a greater
tendency of boys to transgress, may seem to have quite
early origins in childhood. This phenomenon probably
starts within the socialization processes, which may still
be likely to promote different kinds of behavior in male
and female children [22]. Nevertheless, it is necessary to
admit that this finding could also be related to the fact
that the kinds of relational rules transgressions that the
teachers of physical activity can register in their check-
Positive Development in Children and the Precursors of Healthy Life-Styles: The Role of Eating Regularity
and Level of Leisure Activity
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
list are by definition overt behaviors. Previous research
has shown that boys are generally more likely than girls
to be involved in this kind of transgression behavior and
that conversely girls are usually more likely than boys to
be involved in covert (or relational) types of transgres-
sion of relational rules [22,23], which are difficult to
register with a check-list addressed at highlighting be-
havioral facets of relationships.
Furthermore, we found that females and males were
much more similar than expected with respect to the kind
of spontaneous leisure activity they were involved in: in
fact boys were more involved than girls in sedentary ac-
tivities, such as playing at videogames and watching TV.
This finding resembles what has been already shown for
the use of the new media: boys usually will use it more
often than girls [20]. We think that is again possible to
interpret this finding as a result of socialization process,
which could be more likely to promote the use and the
experimentation of new technologies among males.
We also hypothesized to find similar relationships
among the precursors of risk and protective factors re-
garding regularity of eating and active and sedentary
leisure activities, and with the two indicators of child-
hood positive development (not being overweight and
being able to respect relational rules) among both gen-
ders. Indeed, we found some similarities but also some
Firstly the inter-correlations showed that the two indi-
cators of adjustment were almost independent in girls;
that is to say that a girl who was overweight was not
more likely to also transgress relational rules. On the
contrary being overweight and transgressing relational
rules were strongly related in boys. Therefore our find-
ings seems to confirm a pattern in childhood similar to
what other authors have previously highlighted in ado-
lescence between bullying and being overweight [6]. In
parallel to these authors, we also think that there are al-
ternative explanations for this phenomenon. On one hand,
perceived asymmetry of power could lead more heavy
male children to use their apparent strength instead of
social competence in order to try to emerge from their
peers [24]. On the other hand, perceived isolation from
the peer group due to being overweight could stimulate
the need to find alternative ways for improving one’s
own social acceptance in the peer group: in this case,
transgressing rules could represents an attempt of be-
coming more interesting at the eyes of peers [25]. How-
ever, further longitudinal research is certainly needed for
individuating the direction of this relationship.
Secondly, we were able to predict being overweight
only in girls and being more likely to transgress rela-
tional rules only in boys. As anticipated, this may be in-
terpreted as an indication of the differential importance
of these two indicators of adjustment in boys and girls at
later stages of development, such as during adolescence
[18]. However, again longitudinal studies are needed for
disentangling the direction of these relationships. At the
present stage of this research we cannot state whether
being overweight in girls is a result of irregularity of eat-
ing habits or on the contrary whether eating behavior
becomes irregular as a reaction of having become previ-
ously overweight and thus an unsuccessful attempt of
reducing weight. At the same extent we do not know
whether transgressing relational rules in boys is the result
of lack of experimentation of social competence due to
abundance of sedentary behavior or on the contrary
whether sedentary behavior becomes more likely a way
to answer perceived discomfort in peer relationships and
thus as an attempt at constructing one’s own social repu-
tation. In this latter case we would need both a longitu-
dinal design and also different measures in order to in-
vestigate the direction of the relationships and also to
evaluate the occurrence of social isolation and aggres-
siveness towards peers.
Thirdly, while regularity of eating was found to be re-
lated only with Body Mass Index, involvement in seden-
tary activity was found to be related especially with
transgression of relational rules. Thus, we found almost
two separate syndromes instead of the expected one, the
former more concerned with the so-called internalizing
problems and that seems more relevant for girls, and the
latter more concerned with externalizing problems and
that seems more important for boys. Although, there is
some indication that internalizing problems may develop
in an almost independent pattern with respect to that of
externalizing problems [26], we would like to know more
about their developmental paths.
5. Strengths and Limitations
Two key limitations of the present study are the cross-
sectional design and the relative weakness of some of the
measures employed, although the young age of the par-
ticipants forced us to use longer series of items. These
two limitations precluded us from investigating the di-
rection of the relationships we found and also to use
more complex strategies of analyses which could have
shed more light on the phenomenon under study. The
next step in this line of research is to investigate these
associations over time and also to introduce some meas-
ures of social isolation and aggressiveness. For instance,
it might be useful to know whether being overweight or
being more likely to transgress relational rules in child-
hood might contribute to the chance of bullying other
people or being victimized in early adolescence for boys,
and whether being overweight in childhood contributes
to the further development of eating problems or other
kinds of internalizing symptoms later on for girls.
The relatively small sample size and the fact that all
Positive Development in Children and the Precursors of Healthy Life-Styles: The Role of Eating Regularity
and Level of Leisure Activity
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. PSYCH
participants resided in one region of Italy also makes it
difficult to generalize results to different populations.
In spite of its limitations, this study has also some
First, it has highlighted the importance of investigating
the precursors of more or less healthy life-styles in
childhood although they can assume different figures in
subsequent phases of development. Second, it has under-
lined the importance of collocating children and not only
adolescent adjustment in the complex web of relation-
ships between personal characteristics, life contexts and
behaviour. Third, it has shown that parents can do some-
thing very simple to prevent their children being over-
weight which is to promote regularity of their eating be-
Finally, it has highlighted the potential relevance for
present and future adjustment of more sedentary or more
active leisure activity and not only with respect to physi-
cal condition. We are really convinced that introducing
special kinds of physical activity curricular programs to
children, structured in the ways suggested by Larson [9]
and Fraser-Thomas, Cŏté, Deakin [16], can be really
helpful to promote more positive development in chil-
dren and that it can have positive consequences for their
future adjustment in terms of both physical and psycho-
logical health. To implement this kind of intervention
and to evaluate its effectiveness is one of our next steps.
6. Acknowledgements
This study was partially funded by CRC Foundation,
Cuneo, Italy. We warmly thank Fulvia Gemelli, Gio-
vanni Musella and Monica Liubicich, S.U.I.S.M., Torino,
Italy, for their support and suggestions for the realisation
of this research. We also thank the students of MA at the
Faculty of Psychology and at S.U.I.S.M., Torino, Italy
who served respectively for administering questionnaires
and for evaluating the children’s behaviour and Body
Mass Index. Finally, we thank the children and their
parents and teachers who accepted to participate at this
study with great enthusiasm.
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