Research Summary

Greenspace and children's physical activity: A GPS/GIS analysis of the PEACH project

Children have higher physical activity levels in greenspace as compared to non-greenspace

Preventive Medicine

Wheeler and colleagues investigated children's physical activity after school in outdoor greenspace, outdoor non-greenspace, and indoors. The purpose of the study was to gain a deeper understanding of what environments in urban areas tend to encourage moderate to vigorous physical activity, and what differences may occur between locations as well as between genders. Prior research has focused largely on adults. This study focused specifically on children. The overall context for the research is concern that many children are not meeting recommended standards for daily physical activity and that “addressing the activity deficit of many present-day children could bring significant current and future health benefits.”

Researchers examined over 1,000 10- to 11-year-old children's after school physical activity locations and levels by having children wear accelerometers for seven days and global positioning system receivers for four days between the end of school and bedtime.

In analyzing the data, Wheeler and colleagues found that children spent only 13% of their time outdoors and most of this time was spent in non-greenspace (11%) as compared to greenspace (2%). Researchers discovered, however, that 30% of children's physical activity and 35% of their moderate to vigorous physical activity occurred outdoors, with more intense physical activity occurring in greenspace as compared to non-greenspace, especially for boys. For example, boys were 1.37 times more likely (and girls 1.08 times more likely) to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity in greenspace as opposed to non-greenspace.

The researchers' use of objective measurement instruments and a large dataset helps improve our understanding of the role of specific land uses in supporting children's physical activity. As a result of their research, Wheeler and colleagues suggest that both green and non-green urban environments may be important to children's physical activity. Since this study investigated children’s after school activity, the authors suggest that additional research be conducted to study potential differences in physical activity on weekends and holidays. They further recommend longitudinal studies.