Children's play and physical activity
Current recommendations for children to engage in 60 minutes of accumulated physical activity per day are not being met by many Scottish children. These figures and their implications for children's health have led to concern about inadequate play provision.
A CSO funded PhD project completed by Chloe McAdam used a mixture of methods to study socio-economic variations in the provision, quality and public perceptions of outdoor play areas in Glasgow. We found that in deprived areas there were actually more play areas, and more per thousand children, but their quality was generally poorer (compared to less deprived areas). Children, parents, and maintenance staff responsible for play areas talked about vandalism, playground misuse, danger of injury or from strangers, underage alcohol consumption and youth misbehaviour as deterrents to using what otherwise might be health promoting facilities.
A lot of problems were blamed on teenagers, and there was a consistent theme of ‘youth vilification’. Parents were very risk aware and said that fears of abduction, strangers, injury from needles, broken glass and equipment, and the presence of teenagers led them to avoid allowing their children out to play in these public spaces. Whether directly measured by the research team, or perceived by the adults and children interviewed, there were more barriers to using playgrounds for children from more deprived compared to less deprived areas. Thus those children who may be in greatest need of free access to safe and healthy play spaces may face more, and more serious, barriers to using them.
This research highlighted the need to engage children, parents, and maintenance staff in designing and maintaining outdoor play areas that are perceived as safe, but at the same time are also challenging enough to improve children's social and motor skills and levels of activity.
We are collaborating on a qualitative component of the SPEEDY study, funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative at the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge. This involves focus groups with 9 and 10 primary school pupils, and their parents, to investigate facilitators and barriers for children’s outdoor physical activity.
McAdam C (nee Hughes) . The socioeconomic variations in the provision, quality and public perceptions of outdoor play areas in Glasgow [PhD], MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow 2009.open access
Ellaway A, Macintyre S, Mutrie N, Kirk A. Nowhere to play? The relationship between the location of outdoor play areas and deprivation in Glasgow. Health & Place 2007;13:557-561pubmed open access
Ellaway A, Macintyre S. Play areas for children [gallery]. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2003;57ID - 2311:313