Small study shows how parents’ concerns about neighborhood restrict kids’ outdoor play

The press release is a bit too much boosting that it is the first study – this isn’t true, check e.g. here – but this small study does add  elements to discussion on how parents’ fear has an important influence on how much kids can play outdoor.

From the press release:

A study conducted by LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health is the first to demonstrate that parents who are concerned about their neighborhoods restrict their children’s outdoor play. The study is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The LSU Health New Orleans team designed the study to identify factors that may reduce physical activity among adolescents.

“Physical inactivity is a major contributing factor to the obesity epidemic, and a large portion of the adolescent population in the US doesn’t meet the recommended 60 minutes of daily vigorous physical activity,” notes senior author Melinda Sothern, PhD, CEP, Research Professor at LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health. “We were interested in exploring some of the possible reasons.”

The research team measured parents/guardians’ and adolescent participants’ responses to a questionnaire, and they evaluated neighborhood 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 neighborhood impact physical activity-related parenting behaviors may be crucial to improving overall activity among adolescents.

“Parents who do not trust their neighbors 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.

“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.”

Abstract of the study:

Background: The current study examined relationships between the neighborhood social environment (parental perceived collective efficacy (PCE)), constrained behaviors (e.g., avoidance or defensive behaviors) and adolescent offspring neighborhood physical activity in low- versus high-incivility neighborhoods. Methods: Adolescents (n = 71; 11–18 years (14.2, SD ± 1.6); male = 37 (52%); non-white = 24 (33.8%); low-income = 20 (29%); overweight/obese = 40 (56%)) and their parents/guardians enrolled in the Molecular and Social Determinants of Obesity in Developing Youth study were included in the current study. Questionnaires measured parents’/guardians’ PCE, constrained outdoor play practices and offspring neighborhood physical activity. Systematic social observation performed at the parcel-level using Google Street View assessed neighborhood incivilities. t-tests and chi-square tests determined differences by incivilities. Multilevel regression models examined relationships between PCE and: (1) constrained behaviors; and (2) neighborhood physical activity. The Hayes (2013) macro determined the mediating role of constrained behaviors. Results: Parents who had higher PCE reported lower levels of avoidance (p = 0.04) and defensive (p = 0.05) behaviors. However, demographic variables (i.e., gender, race and annual household income) limited these results. The direct relationship between PCE and parent-reported neighborhood physical activity was statistically significant in high-incivility neighborhoods only. Neither avoidance nor defensive behavior mediated the relationship between PCE and neighborhood physical activity. Conclusions: PCE influences parenting behaviors related to youth physical activity. Community-based programs that seek to facilitate social cohesion and control may be needed to increase adolescents’ physical activity.

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