Children who fidget have better health, Scottish scientists say

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Parents who are constantly pleading with their children to stop fidgeting will be relieved to hear that the annoying habit may be good for their health, according to the findings of a scientific study.

Children who are frequently changing their posture as they do everyday activities burn more calories, using up energy amounting to up to 3kg of body weight a year, it concluded.

The study, which was carried out in Australia but involved academics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, said fidgeting could have a “meaningful” health impact on children.

Researchers studied 40 children who took it in turns to spend just over an hour in an observation room, having their calorie expenditure measured while they took part in a range of activities.

These included everyday things such as watching television, playing with toys on the floor, drawing and colouring in, with some of the children moving around more than others.

The scientists found that the children who fidgeted by continually switching between sitting, standing and lying down expended energy as they did so.

Their study, published in the journal PLOS One, said that, while the movements were small in themselves, their cumulative effect over the long term could have a significant impact on body fat.

Most of the children participating in the study were aged between four and five, with an average height of 112.9 cm (3ft 8in) and an average weight of 20.6 kg (3st 3lb).

While boys were found to fidget just as much as girls, the type of activity they were doing made a difference, with playing with toys the most likely to result in movement and watching TV the least.

Professor John Reilly of Strathclyde’s school of psychological sciences and health, one of the researchers involved, stressed that fidgeting was no substitute for children getting proper exercise.

“There’s a growing scientific interest in the benefits of breaking up sedentary behaviour with spells of standing or walking but there has been very little research into the energy used in changes in posture – also known as ‘fidgeting’,” he added.

“Fidgeting in adults has been found to consist mainly of things like tapping hands or feet, but children make bigger whole-body movements when they fidget and they also fidget more often.”