Presentation at the 2006 Active Living Research Annual Conference
The rapid increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children has attracted the attention of the public health community and raised the awareness of children's physical activity levels. The lack of evidence for increased energy consumption by children implies their physical activity level has declined and their physical inactivity level has increased in recent years. Nowadays, children have less space to play outside. Building offices, houses and car parks often get higher priority in urban planning than realizing playgrounds. To date, the effects of these decisions on children's physical activity levels and the successive increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity are unknown.
The objective of the Spatial Planning and Children's Exercise (SPACE) study was to investigate the association between neighborhood characteristics and children's physical (in)activity level in order to guide urban planners in remodeling 'non-activity friendly' into 'activity-friendly' neighborhoods.
The SPACE study involved 1,238 six- to 11-year old children recruited from twenty elementary schools in ten Dutch neighborhoods. Five of these neighborhoods have received priority from the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment for spatial restructuring in the near future. The other five were matched on type of buildings, construction period, socioeconomic status and age distribution. Physical activity was assessed by activity diaries and ActiGraph accelerometers. Neighborhood characteristics were scored using a checklist. Multivariate analyses were used to examine the association between neighborhood characteristics and children's physical (in)activity level.
Almost seven hundred children completed the activity diary (n = 691; 6-11 years old; 22% overweight; 9% obese; 51% girls). Two percent of the subjects met the physical activity guideline to accumulate a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day. The number of days on which the children met the guideline significantly increased with the presence of sport grounds, low-rise buildings, residential areas with limited access to traffic, green facilities, water and car parks. Parking places in the street, intersections, heavy bus and lorry traffic, and the presence of a tram in the neighborhood, were negatively associated with the number of days on which children met the physical activity guideline.
This is the first study in the Netherlands in which subjective and objective physical activity data has been gathered and related to neighborhood characteristics in this age group. In this study, the percentage of children meeting the 60-minute guideline is considerably lower than what has been found in national surveys. In addition, compared to national surveys, a much higher prevalence of overweight and obesity have been found. Physical (in)activity levels of six- to 11-year old children are associated with neighborhoods characteristic of disadvantaged Dutch neighborhoods.
The study should be extended to more 'activity-friendly' areas. Furthermore, the measurements of the SPACE study should be repeated in the ten neighborhoods after spatial restructuring of five of them, to investigate its effect on children's physical (in)activity levels and the prevalence of overweight and obesity.