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Arnold School of Public Health

Study of Health and Activity in Preschool Environments (SHAPES)


To expand the body of knowledge regarding effective public health interventions to increase physical activity and decrease physical inactivity, thereby helping to prevent obesity in young children.


Preschool children are typically perceived to be highly physically active. In one study parents reported that they believed their preschool-age children were physically active for 3-4 hours per day. While it is true that young children tend to be more physically active than their older counterparts, available data suggest that today's young children are not as active as parents believe; nor are they as active as experts suggest they should be.


Eight publicly-supported preschools and eight private preschools were selected to participate in the study. The preschools were randomly assigned to the intervention group (eight preschools) or control group (eight preschools). The intervention preschools implemented the intervention in their four-year-old classrooms over a three-year period.

Both intervention and control preschools participated in the data collection component of the study. Data collection was conducted in three phases, one year apart, using the same preschools in each phase but recruiting different parents and children in the three phases. All parents and children in the four-year-old classrooms of the participating preschools were invited to participate, and parents were asked to complete an informed consent form granting permission for their child to participate.

Project Details

Timeline: August 2008 - June 2012
Funding Source: NIH
Principal Investigator: Russell R. Pate
Co-Investigator(s): Cheryl Addy, William Brown, Karin Pfeiffer, Ruth Saunders


Saunders RP, Dowda M, Pfeiffer KA, Brown WH, Pate RR. Childcare center characteristics moderate the effects of a physical activity internvetion. Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020; 17:101. [pdf]

Saunders RP, Schenkelberg MA, Moyer C, Howie EK, Brown WH, Pate RR. The translation of an evidenced-based preschool physical activity intervention from in-person to online delivery of professional development to preschool teachers. Translational Behavioral Medicine. 2019 9(6), 1186-1196. [pdf]

Saunders RP, Pfeiffer K, Brown WH, Howie EK, Dowda M, O’Neill JR, McIver K, Pate RR. Evaluating and refining the conceptual model used in the study of health and activity in preschool environments (SHAPES) intervention. Health Education & Behavior. 2017 Dec;44(6):876-84.[pdf]

Kennedy AB, Schenkelberg M, Moyer C, Pate R, Saunders RP. Process evaluation of a preschool physical activity intervention using web-based delivery. Evaluation and program planning. 2017 Feb 1;60:24-36.[pdf]

Lau EY, Saunders RP, Beets MW, Cai B, Pate RR. Factors influencing implementation of a preschool-based physical activity intervention. Health education research. 2017 Feb 1;32(1):69-80.[pdf]

Howie EK, Brewer AE, Brown WH, Saunders RP, Pate RR. Systematic dissemination of a preschool physical activity intervention to the control preschools. Evaluation and program planning. 2016 Aug 1;57:1-7.[pdf]

Pate RR, Brown WH, Pfeiffer KA, Howie EK, Saunders RP, Addy CL, Dowda M. An intervention to increase physical activity in children: a randomized controlled trial with 4-year-olds in preschools. American journal of preventive medicine. 2016 Jul 1;51(1):12-22.[pdf]

O’Neill JR, Pfeiffer KA, Dowda M, Pate RR. In-school and out-of-school physical activity in preschool children. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2016 Jun;13(6):606-10.[pdf]

Howie EK, Brewer AE, Dowda M, McIver KL, Saunders RP, Pate RR. A tale of 2 teachers: A preschool physical activity intervention case study. Journal of school health. 2016 Jan;86(1):23-30.[pdf]

Pate RR, O'Neill JR, Byun W, McIver KL, Dowda M, Brown WH. Physical activity in preschool children: comparison between Montessori and traditional preschools. Journal of School Health. 2014 Nov 1;84(11):716-21.[pdf]

Howie EK, Brewer A, Brown WH, Pfeiffer KA, Saunders RP, Pate RR. The 3-year evolution of a preschool physical activity intervention through a collaborative partnership between research interventionists and preschool teachers. Health education research. 2014 Mar 21;29(3):491-502.[pdf]

Pfeiffer KA, Saunders RP, Brown WH, Dowda M, Addy CL, Pate RR. Study of Health and Activity in Preschool Environments (SHAPES): Study protocol for a randomized trial evaluating a multi-component physical activity intervention in preschool children. BMC Public Health. 2013 Dec;13(1):728.[pdf]

Byun W, Blair SN, Pate RR. Objectively measured sedentary behavior in preschool children: Comparison between Montessori and traditional preschools. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2013 Dec;10(1):2.[pdf]

Ross ST, Dowda M, Saunders R, Pate R. Double dose: The cumulative effect of TV viewing at home and in preschool on children’s activity patterns and weight status. Pediatric exercise science. 2013 May;25(2):262-72.[pdf]

España-Romero V, Mitchell JA, Dowda M, O’Neill JR, Pate RR. Objectively measured sedentary time, physical activity and markers of body fat in preschool children. Pediatric exercise science. 2013 Feb;25(1):154-63.[pdf]

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