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Preschool outdoor play environment may combine promotion of children's physical activity and sun protection. Further evidence from Southern Sweden and North Carolina

Summary


Green playgrounds promote both physical activity and sun protective behavior in young children

This study examined the impact of preschool outdoor environments on children’s physical activity and solar ultraviolet (UV) exposure in two countries at different latitudes – the United States and Sweden. Eleven preschools participated in the study: two in Raleigh, NC and nine in Sweden. The Outdoor Play Environment Category (OPEC) was used to assess the play potential of the outdoor environment of each preschool. This assessment considers space, vegetation, hilly terrain, and level of integration between open spaces, vegetation and play structures. Based on this assessment, each preschool was categorized as low-score (low play potential) or high-score (high play potential) environments.

In Malmo, six of the nine schools were classified as low-score and three as high-score. In Raleigh, both outdoor environments were low-score. These scores were factored into the analysis along with the sky view factor (SVF) of each site. The SVF represents the fraction of visible free sky captured by fish eye photography of the sky from favorite places as determined by behavioral mapping of children at play. Children’s physical activity was measured by pedometers and solar UV exposure by polysulphone dosimeters over a five-day period.

In Malmo, the mean step count per minute was 21.1 in high-score schools and 17.6 in low-score schools. The UV-exposure was 26% in high-score schools and 43% in low-score schools. In Raleigh, the mean step count per minute was 12.3 and UV-exposure of available UV was 27% during outdoor play.

The primary finding was that high-OPEC preschools (preschools with high playability grounds) trigger children’s physical activity as well as sun protection.  The authors suggest that OPEC may be used as a tool for sun protection based on the idea that in green and varied outdoor settings children’s own choice of place and playful use of the physical environment seem to result in less UV exposure.

These findings are consistent with previous research from a more northern county in Sweden where children’s access to green outdoor environments with high play potential increased their physical activity and yet had a low-risk of sunburn in spite of spending a long period of time outdoors.

Citation

Boldemann, C., Dal, H., Martensson, F., Cosco, N., Moore, R., Bierber, B., Blennow, M., Pagels, P., Raustorp, A., Wester, U., Soderstrom, M., (2011). Preschool outdoor play environment may combine promotion of children's physical activity and sun protection. Further evidence from Southern Sweden and North Carolina. Science & Sports, 26(2), 72-82.

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