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The beach as a setting for families’ health promotion: A qualitative study with parents and children living in coastal regions in Southwest England


Trips to beaches encourage physical activity in children

In recent years, an increasing number of studies regarding the health effects of exposure to green space has been published.  However, as the authors of this study point out, almost no studies exist on the effects of blue space such as beaches, lakes, and rivers. In addition, little attention has been paid to how and why families spend time together in nature, how they use natural environments to promote health, and what barriers they face in doing so.
In a qualitative study of 15 families with children between the ages of 8-11 years living in Devon or Cornwall, England, the authors attempt to address this gap.  According to the authors, this is a suitable location for the study as there are “over 750 miles of beaches, where no one lives further than 35km from the coast.” For this study, the authors conducted semi-structured interviews with participating parents and children about activities, perceived benefits and barriers associated with trips to the beach.

The authors found that during trips to the beach every child engaged in at least one form of physical activity in and out of the water.  Water activities of note included body boarding, surfing, swimming and playing in the waves.  Land activities included exploring tide pools, building with sand, digging, and building dams and forts.  Both parents and children were aware of the potential benefits going to the beach can have on physical health (increased physical activity, fresh air, sunshine), and especially mental health (fun, stress reduction, improved mood). The authors discuss their findings in the context of Attention Restoration Theory and the psycho-evolutionary model. The authors suggest that the large amount of natural (water, sand, rocks) and dynamic features (tides, tide pool animals, waves) at the beach leads to increases in physical activity in children. In contrast to other studies demonstrating that girls tend to be less active than boys, this study suggests that the beach may play a role in encouraging physical activity in girls and reducing gender-related inequalities in physical activity. In addition, participants reported frequent joint parent-child physical activity at the beach, in contrast to studies of physical activity in other settings. An important factor related to the likelihood of children visiting the beach was parent preferences for, or not for, this sort of activity.



Ashbullby, K. J., Pahl, S., Webley, P., White, M. P., (2013). The beach as a setting for families’ health promotion: A qualitative study with parents and children living in coastal regions in Southwest England. Health & Place, 23, 138-147.


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