No Room to Play in Cities?

Safe and green spaces in urban areas are important for increasing physical activity in children. Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt.

A new report published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that school-aged children living in high-density and well-connected neighborhoods are less likely to be physically active outside of school. The study looked at the physical activity patterns of children aged 11 to 15 years old, analyzing and comparing the behavior of 8,535 students across 180 Canadian schools within a three-mile region.

The findings of the study point to the relationship and influence of our surrounding landscape on our daily behavior. They also point out the differing and conflicting ways our environment can affect adults and children.

“Studies have shown that areas like the Webbs’, with well-connected streets and a high density of intersections, promote exercise among adults, who are more likely to walk or cycle to work or the green grocer,” ParentCentral reports. The article also reports that the connectivity that encourages active transportation in adults has the opposite effect on children.

“Where houses are crammed, yards are small and there’s more traffic, there may be no place for kids to play,” says Ian Janssen, professor of kinesiology and epidemiology at Queen’s University, in an interview with ParentCentral. “Whereas if you have a quiet cul-de-sac it becomes a playground.”

But before you start packing for your move to the suburbs, consider this additional point by Stephanie Prince Ware of the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, and a PhD candidate in population health: “If your parents walk, you’re much more likely to ride your bike and think about walking to get somewhere,” Ware explains. Children imitate the behavior of their parents. If parents select active transport as a viable commuting option, children are more likely to imitate when it is their turn to decide.

Furthermore, the article adds that such findings are never black and white. Children in suburban communities get more physical activity because of space and safety, which makes a strong case for reproducing similarly safe and green spaces in higher-density, and well-connected urban neighborhoods.

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