Environmental supportiveness for physical activity in English schoolchildren: A study using Global Positioning Systems

Andrew P. Jones, Emma G. Coombes, Simon J. Griffin, Esther M. F. van Sluijs

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131 Citations (Scopus)


Background: There is increasing evidence that the environment plays a role in influencing physical activity in children and adults. As children have less autonomy in their behavioural choices, neighbourhood environment supportiveness may be an important determinant of their ability to be active. Yet we know rather little about the types of environment that children use for bouts of physical activity. This study uses accelerometery and global positioning system technologies to identify the charactieristics of environments being used for bouts of continuous moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in a sample of English schoolchildren. 
Methods: The study used a convenience sample of 100 children from SPEEDY (Sport, Physical activity and Eating behaviour: Environmental Determinants in Young people), a cohort of 2064 9-10 year-olds from Norfolk, England, recruited in 2007. Children wore an ActiGraph GT1M accelerometer and a Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS unit over four consecutive days. Accelerometery data points were matched to GPS locations and bouts (5 minutes or more) of MVPA were identified. Bout locations were overlaid with a detailed landcover dataset developed in a GIS to identify the types of environment supporting MVPA. Findings are presented using descriptive statistics. 
Results: Boys were also more active than girls, spending an average of 20 (SD 23) versus 11 (SD 15) minutes per day in MVPA bouts. Children who spent more time outside the home were more active (p = 0.002), especially girls and children living in rural locations (both p < 0.05). Children tended to be active close to home, with 63% of all bout time occurring inside neighbourhoods, although boys (p = 0.05) and rural children (p = 0.01) were more likely to roam outside their neighbourhood. Amongst urban children, gardens (28% of bout time) and the street environment (20%) were the most commonly used environments for MVPA bouts. Amongst rural children farmland (22%) and grassland (18%) were most frequently used. 
Conclusion: The study has developed a new methodology for the identification of environments in which bouts of continuous physical activity are undertaken. The results highlight the importance of the provision of urban gardens and greenspaces, and the maintenance of safe street environments as places for children to be active.
Original languageEnglish
Article number42
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2009

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