The availability of neighborhood parks and playgrounds, and how parents feel about their safety, influence whether children will watch less television and play fewer computer games after school, according to a study led by Jenny Veitch, Ph.D., from the Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research at Deakin University in Australia.
The study sought to identify the links between the quality of outdoor public spaces, parents’ perception of them, and children’s sedentary behavior. Sedentary behavior is a contributing factor in the growth of childhood obesity, which is becoming a major public health problem.
In 2004, the parents of 171 nine-year-old children answered survey questions regarding their perceptions of the physical and social neighborhood environment. In both 2004 and 2006, parents were asked to tell how much time their child spent watching television, using the computer and playing electronic games. The researchers also verified the local public open spaces and objectively measured how sedentary the children were outside school hours.
Veitch and her team discovered that sedentary behavior increased significantly between 2004 and 2006, which was reflected by a parallel rise in time spent on the computer and playing electronic games (but not watching television).
Also, the more satisfied parents were with the quality of their local parks, the less time the children spent using computers and playing electronic games. And the more satisfied parents were in 2004, the less television their children watched in 2006.
Objective assessments of the nearby park opportunities were also linked to how much time children spent in sedentary behaviors. For example, children who lived near a large public open space with a water feature, or lived in a cul-de-sac, spent less time in front of a screen at home. However, those who had a walking path in the park close to their home spent more time using computers and electronic games.
“Our findings suggest that while some features of the neighborhood physical environment are associated with young children spending less time watching TV and using computers and e-games outside of school hours, the presence of walking paths, for example, is associated with more time using computers and e-games in this age group. This highlights the complexity of designing communities to meet the needs of residents across the life-course,” the authors stated.
The research is published online in Springer’s journal, Annals of Behavioral Medicine.