Policy, systems, and environmental interventions addressing physical activity in early childhood education settings: A systematic review

Cody Neshteruk, Sarah Burkart, Emily W. Flanagan, Emily Melnick, Courtney Luecking, Chelsea L. Kracht

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) approaches can facilitate physical activity in priority populations (e.g., racial and ethnic minority, low wealth groups) within early childhood education (ECE) settings. The purpose of this review was to 1) characterize the inclusion of priority populations within ECE physical activity interventions containing PSE approaches and 2) identify and describe interventions within these populations. Seven databases were systematically searched (January 2000-Febrary 2022) for ECE-based interventions focusing on children (0–6 years) that utilized at least one PSE approach. Eligible studies included a child physical activity or physical activity environment outcome and child or center-level population characteristics. Forty-four studies, representing 42 interventions were identified. For Aim 1, half of interventions included one PSE approach (21/42), with only 11/42 including three or more approaches. Physical environment changes [e.g., adding play equipment, modifying space (25/42)] were the most used PSE approaches followed by system [e.g., integrating activity into routines, (21/42)] and policy [e.g., outdoor time (20/42)] approaches. Nearly half of interventions were conducted in predominantly priority populations (18/42). Studies were primarily rated as good (51%) or fair (38%) methodological quality using the Downs and Black checklist. In Aim 2, of the 12 interventions assessing child physical activity in priority populations, 9/12 reported at least one physical activity outcome in the expected direction. Of the 11 interventions assessing the physical activity environment, 9/11 reported an effect in the expected direction. Findings indicate clear opportunities exist to target priority populations by incorporating PSE approaches in ECE physical activity interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107606
JournalPreventive Medicine
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors


  • Childcare
  • Early childhood education
  • Effectiveness
  • Environment
  • Physical activity
  • Policy
  • Preschool
  • System
  • Weight-related behaviors
  • Young children

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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