Nguyen, H.T., Christian, H., Le, H.T., Connelly, L., Zubrick, S.R., and Mitrou, F. (2021). ‘The Impact of Weather on Time Allocation to Physical Activity and Sleep of Child-Parent Dyads’, Life Course Centre Working Paper Series, 2021-11. Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland.
Ha Trong Nguyen, Hayley Christian, Huong Thu Le, Luke Connelly, Stephen R. Zubrick, and Francis Mitrou.
Regular physical activity supports healthy functioning of individuals across all ages. However, children and adults are not physically active enough. Much research has investigated the barriers to children and adults being more physically active. One of the commonly documented barriers is unfavourable weather conditions (i.e., too hot, cold or wet). However, it remains unclear whether unfavourable weather conditions have a differential impact on physical activity and sleep in children compared with adults. This study explores the differential impact of weather on time allocation to physical activity and sleep by young adolescents and their middled-aged parents.
We use nationally representative data with time use indicators objectively measured from accelerometers and activity cards on multiple occasions for more than 1,100 child-parent pairs, coupled with daily meteorological data. Employing an individual fixed effects regression model to estimate the causal impact of weather, we show that unfavourable weather conditions, as measured by cold or hot temperatures or rain, cause children to reduce the time allocated to physical activities, mainly by increasing the sedentary time. However, we do not find any noticeable weather impact on the time that children allocate to sleeping or the way their parents spend their own time. Our results also show that the differential weather impact observed for these child-parent dyads is statistically significantly different and meaningful.
In addition to the potential role of age differences between children and their parents, our results further suggest that children’s school commitments or parental work schedules contribute to this differential weather impact because weather impact varies substantially by weekdays/weekends and parental employment status. We also find evidence of adaptation and acclimatization, as children living in colder regions or surveyed in colder months are more sensitive to warmer temperatures. Our findings are robust to a wide range of sensitivity checks, including controlling for individual heterogeneity and using alternative model specifications.
The finding of a more pronounced weather impact on the time allocation by children enriches existing evidence suggesting that climate change affects individuals differently depending on their age and stage of development. This finding also calls for mitigation policies to protect vulnerable populations, especially children, from adverse consequences of extreme weather conditions. The results suggest that extreme weather conditions, including those associated with climate change, could make children vulnerable to reduced physical activity.