Social home environment was a significant predictor for both physical activity and screen time behaviors among youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to results of a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

The relationship between physical activity and screen time in the setting of ASD was evaluated in this cross-sectional survey study conducted between 2020 and 2021 in Brazil, China, Finland, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States. Parents of a child aged 10 to 17 years were contacted via email through ASD organizations, social media, and school principals. Participants received a 26-item survey about demographics, physical activity, screen time, and environmental factors.

A total of 1165 patients with ASD participated in this study and had a mean age of 13.08 (SD, 2.18) years, 75.6% were boys, 51.2% had moderate or severe ASD, and 52.4% had normal weight. Stratified by country, the greatest number of participants lived in Finland (n=278) and the fewest in the US (n=86).

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Participants were physically active 2.30 (SD, 2.04) days per week on average and spent 3.43 (SD, 1.51) hours per day on screens.

In the adjusted multiple linear regression analysis, physical activity was associated with social home environment (β, 1.07; P <.001), social network (β, 0.16; P =.02), and neighborhood environment (β, 0.15; P =.047). Screen time associated with bedroom media (β, 0.10; P =.001), social trust and cohesion (β, -0.14; P =.001), and social home environment (β, -0.16; P <.001).

Overall, the models were a better fit for physical activity (R2, 29.3%) than for screen time (R2, 16.0%), explaining a higher amount of the observed variance.

These findings may not be generalizable for the entire ASD population, as participants were recruited using a convenience sampling approach.

Study authors concluded, “[B]ased on an international sample of youth with ASD, we have identified several environmental correlates of physical activity and screen-time behaviors. Importantly, these 2 behaviors are not determined by identical environmental correlates. [..] The identified environmental attributes coupled with the low compliance level of physical activity and screen-time guidelines suggest the need to target neighborhood, social, and home environments for promoting health behaviors among youth with ASD.”


Haegele JA, Sun F, Li C, et al. Environmental correlates of physical activity and screen- time in youth with autism spectrum disorder: a seven-country observational studyJ Autism Dev Disord. 2023;1-9. doi:10.1007/s10803-023-05918-7

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor