Associations among greenspace exposure, time in neighbourhood, physical activity, and childhood development

Ward, Jonathan
Duncan, Scott
Jarden, Aaron
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Master of Health Science
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Auckland University of Technology

Background Regular moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) has been identified as an important factor in healthy childhood development. However, evidence suggests that children in New Zealand and worldwide are generally not meeting recommended targets for daily MVPA. In order to understand and potentially influence children’s engagement in physical activity, a substantial body of research has investigated many of the factors that are associated with children’s MVPA. These variables include exposure to greenspaces and the neighbourhood environment. Both greenspace exposure and physical activity have also been associated with broader measures of children’s development including cognition, emotional wellbeing, and risk-taking behaviour. The current research aimed to investigate the associations between greenspace exposure and time spent in the neighbourhood environment with the physical activity of children. The associations between these variables and measures of children’s cognitive development, emotional wellbeing, and risk-taking behaviour were also explored.

Methods This observational study involved 118 participants aged 11-14 years from three intermediate schools in Auckland, New Zealand. Physical activity and geolocational data were recorded using accelerometers and portable global positioning system (GPS) receivers, respectively, over a 7-day monitoring period. Body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-height ratio (WHtR) were calculated from height, weight, and waist circumference. Participants also completed online cognitive testing, a computerised risk-appraisal tool, and a questionnaire for assessing emotional wellbeing and sensation-seeking characteristics. Geolocational and physical activity data were merged, processed, and analysed to identify activity that occurred within greenspaces, and activity that occurred within the participants’ neighbourhoods (defined by an 800 metre radius around their home address). Participants were grouped into quartiles based on their time spent in their neighbourhood for analysis. Generalised linear mixed models were used to quantify the associations between MVPA, greenspace exposure, and secondary outcome variables. Also, the associations between time in the neighbourhood, physical activity, and several other individual-level (BMI, Life satisfaction score), and neighbourhood-level (number and area of greenspaces, neighbourhood walkability score), variables were analysed in generalised linear models.

Results This study confirmed that greenspace exposure is positively associated with MVPA in children (β = 0.94; p < 0.05). Furthermore, both greenspace exposure and MVPA were related to greater emotional wellbeing, with the former exhibiting a stronger relationship than the latter. Risk-taking and sensation seeking scores were positively associated with MVPA, but not with greenspace exposure. No associations were detected between BMI, WHtR, cognitive domains, and either MVPA or greenspace exposure. Lower time in the neighbourhood was associated with lower engagement in MVPA; however, this relationship was not consistent amongst all quartiles. There were no other significant associations between time in neighbourhood and any other variables.

Conclusion The findings of this Thesis support the theory that for children, greenspaces are an important environmental influence on physical activity and emotional wellbeing. It provides evidence that children’s greenspace exposure is associated with both increased MVPA, and higher levels of emotional wellbeing. It also provides some evidence that the amount of time spent in the neighbourhood environment is positively associated with children’s physical activity levels, but not related to BMI, life satisfaction, or greenspace exposure. The analysis of neighbourhood-level variables found no relationships between time in the neighbourhood and the area or number of local greenspaces or the neighbourhood walkability score. This research adds to our knowledge of the importance of greenspaces in enhancing healthy childhood development.

Greenspace , Physical activity , Children , Neighbourhood , Emotional wellbeing
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