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A repeated measurement study investigating the impact of school outdoor environment upon physical activity across ages and seasons in Swedish second, fifth and eighth graders.

Summary


Vegetation and woodlands in schoolyards lead to increased physical activity levels in children, but the effects depend on gender

This study examined how the outdoor school environment (playground features, space, topography and vegetation) influences moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) levels in 196 Swedish students ages 7-14 years.  Four schools with varying outdoor environments were studied.  Two schools were in smaller municipalities and had large playfields and woodland adjacent to the schoolyards.  The other two were in medium-sized cities in urban locations.  Physical activity was measured using accelerometers and location and type of activity of the students were tracked by observation and recorded on a map.

Prior studies in the literature suggest that during school recess boys are physically more active than girls in almost all grades, that physical activity decreases as children age, and that the outdoor environment impacts physical activity. This study is consistent with these earlier findings. Time spent outdoors, as well as amount of outdoor space used for play, were positively correlated with MVPA.  In addition, students at the two schools with large playfields and adjacent woodland spent greater amounts of time in MVPA than the students at the urban schools. Overall, boys engaged in more MVPA than girls, and younger students engaged in more MVPA than older students. Greater amount of green space, and particularly access to woodlands for play, helped maintain levels of MVPA in girls (who often become less physically active as they get older). Ball play areas increased MVPA for boys and helped maintain it as they aged. The older children were permitted to be outside for shorter amounts of time than the younger children, and had fewer play spaces designed with their age group in mind, which likely explains at least some of the age-related decline in MVPA. These findings have important policy and schoolyard design implications.

 

Citation

Pagels, P., Raustorp, A., Ponce De Leon, A., Mårtensson, F., Kylin, M., Boldemann, C., (2014). A repeated measurement study investigating the impact of school outdoor environment upon physical activity across ages and seasons in Swedish second, fifth and eighth graders.. BioMed Central Public Health, 14, 803.

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