Parents anxious about neighbourhoods restrict children’s outdoor play, finds new study

Hamilton Elementary Middle School in Baltimore, MD on Friday, Jul. 11, 2014. The school welcomes children age 18 and under and individuals 19 years and over whom have mental or physical disabilities to Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) sites, such as this one during the hours of 8-8:30 AM and 11 AM – 12 Noon, during the summer school vacation period. Hamilton School also provides activity programs for the children, if desired. A list of current locations in Baltimore can be seen at SFSP is a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program that helps children receive the nutrition they need to learn, play, and grow throughout the summer months. The SFSP provides reimbursement to agencies for meals and snacks served to children in areas where at least 50 percent of the children qualify for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program, or when 50 percent of children enrolled in a program qualify. Most agencies may be reimbursed for up to two meals or snacks a day per child. Some, including migrant programs and camps, may be reimbursed for up to three meals daily per child. SFSP agencies include private nonprofit organizations, government agencies, public or nonprofit school systems, and summer camps. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Parental perceptions

The research team measured parents/guardians’ and adolescent participants’ responses to a questionnaire, and they evaluated neighbourhood characteristics. Adolescents who are free to play outdoors and travel actively without adult supervision accumulate more physical activity than those who are not; therefore understanding whether parental perceptions of their neighbourhood impact physical activity-related parenting behaviours may be crucial to improving overall activity among adolescents.

“Parents who do not trust their neighbours or feel they have no control over neighborhood problems were more likely to restrict their child’s outdoor play,” says lead author Maura Kepper, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health.

In this small study, though, the self-reported responses did not seem to indicate that the parents’ concerns altered their children’s physical activity levels. The role of the physical environment was not clear, yet this exploratory study illustrates the need for further research in larger, more diverse samples of children and adolescents.

Activity limited

“Furthermore, we found that the neighborhood physical environment, such as the presence of graffiti and blighted property in the neighborhood, worsened the problem,” says Kepper, who now also has an appointment at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “Therefore, a child’s ability to achieve the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity may be limited. This research is an important first step to identifying targets for community-based programs that seek to facilitate trust and control among neighbors that is needed to increase outdoor play among children and adolescents, especially within poor physical environments.”

Adrian Voce
Source: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Centre
Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Author: Adrian Voce

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