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Change in device-measured physical activity assessed in childhood and adolescence in relation to depressive symptoms: a general population-based cohort study
  1. Mark Hamer1,
  2. Praveetha Patalay2,
  3. Steven Bell3,
  4. G David Batty4,5
  1. 1 Institute Sport Exercise Health, Division Surgery Interventional Science, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2 Centre Longitudinal Studies, Institute Education, University College London, London, UK
  3. 3 Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  4. 4 Department Epidemiology Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  5. 5 School of Biological & Population Health Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Mark Hamer, Division Surgery Interventional Science, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK; m.hamer{at}


Aim Evidence for a link between physical activity and mental health in young people is hampered by methodological shortcomings. Using repeat assessments of device-measured physical activity, we examined the association of within-individual variation in free-living activity over 7 years with depressive symptoms.

Methods This was a prospective cohort study of a nationally representative sample of children born in the UK (n=4898). Physical activity was quantified using accelerometry at ages 7 and 14. The main outcome was depressive symptoms, based on the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaire, assessed at age 14.

Results After adjustment for socioeconomic status, body mass index and psychological problems at baseline, a higher level of light-intensity activity at age 7 in girls was associated with a lower likelihood of having depressive symptoms at follow-up (OR, 0.79; 95% CI 0.61 to 1.00), although no associations were observed for moderate to vigorous activity or sedentary behaviour. Girls who transitioned from low baseline activity to higher levels at follow-up experienced a lower risk of depressive symptoms (OR, 0.60; 95% CI 0.39 to 0.92) compared with the inactive reference category. Null associations were observed in boys. Participants who consistently met the current recommendation of 60 min/day of moderate to vigorous activity both at 7 and 14 years of age experienced the lowest risk of depressive symptoms (OR, 0.55; 95% CI 0.34 to 0.88).

Conclusion To prevent depressive symptoms in adolescence, policies to increase physical activity from mid-childhood may have utility.

  • child health
  • cohort studies
  • depression
  • physical activity

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  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it first published online. In the opening line of the Abstract ‘weak evidence’ has been replaced by ‘methodological shortcomings.'

  • Contributors MH (guarantor) had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. MH obtained funding, conceptualised and designed the study, performed the analyses, drafted the initial manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. PP, SB and DB conceptualised and designed the study, provided statistical input and critical revision of the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted.

  • Funding This research was conducted under the auspices of the Cross-Cohort Research Programme and was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number ES/M008584/1). GDB is supported by the UK Medical Research Council (MR/P023444/1) and the US National Institute on Aging (1R56AG052519-01; 1R01AG052519-01A1). The funders had no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

  • Disclaimer The lead author (guarantor) affirms that the manuscript is an honest, accurate and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned (and, if relevant, registered) have been explained.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval Ethical approval was granted by the Northern and Yorkshire Multi-Centre Research Ethics Committee of the NHS.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available in a public, open access repository;