Children’s outdoor playing is often restricted by perception of safety a new review study shows

I’ve known about a couple of studies that showed that children play less outdoor when their parents have doubts about the neighborhood. Roula Zougheibe sent me this study as it’s a part of her Ph.D.-work in which she did an extensive review of this topic. I do think it’s the first systematic review that comprehensively synthesizes evidence on neighborhood safety correlates to forms of primary school-aged children’s outdoor active mobility behaviors (COAMB).

And what are the findings?

This systematic review of evidence revealed that there is inequality in COAMB by children’s sex/gender and age and some indication regarding race/ethnicity and (SES) despite the evidence being inconclusive with regard to the latter two examined variables. Compared with safer neighbourhoods, children living in perceived unsafe areas correlated with lower outdoor active mobility behaviour and reduced active play. However, perceived personal safety risk has primarily restricted children’s active travel to local destinations, whereas perceived danger from traffic reduced every type of COAMB. Nevertheless, the direction and strength of the correlates are affected by individual and family characteristics, distance travelled, and time (weekend/weekday/time of day). These findings were consistent across countries. There is a need to use validated measurement methods. Deeper understanding of safety (perceived or measured) correlates to race/ethnicity,(SES) variances and COAMB (spatial extent of active behaviour or intensity of physical activity) may answer more profound behavioural research questions. Current inequalities in children’s opportunities to engage in active mobility behaviour require sex/gender and age-based interventions. Most importantly, interventions aimed at improving personal safety and engaging children in urban design to promote child-friendly cities may prompt children to travel further actively. Improvements in road conditions may increase overall COAMB and enable children and families to embrace an active mobility culture.

Abstract of the study:

Objective To identify, summarise and evaluate evidence on the correlation between perceived and actual neighbourhood safety (personal and road danger) and diverse forms of outdoor active mobility behaviour (ie, active play, exercise, and travel) among primary-school-aged children.

Design A systematic review of evidence from observational studies exploring children’s active mobility behaviour and safety.

Data sources Six electronic databases were searched: Google Scholar, PubMed, Scopus, Science Direct, ProQuest and Web of Science from study inception until July 2020.

Data extraction and synthesis Study selection and quality assessment were conducted independently by two reviewers. We expanded on a quality assessment tool and adopted a vote-counting technique to determine strength of evidence. The outcomes were categorised by individual, family and neighbourhood levels.

Results A total of 29 studies were included, with a majority of cross-sectional design. Higher parental perceived personal safety correlated with increased children’s active mobility behaviour, but most commonly in active travel (eg, independent walking or cycling to a local destination). Increased concerns regarding road danger correlated with a decrease in each type of children’s active behaviour; active travel, play and exercise. However, these correlations were influenced by child’s sex/gender, age, car ownership, neighbourhood types, across time, and proximity to destination. Limited or inconclusive evidence was found on correlate of children’s outdoor active mobility behaviour to ‘stranger danger’, children’s perceived personal safety, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status or measured safety.

Conclusion Children are restricted by perception of safety. Encouraging children’s active travel may require future strategies to address characteristics relevant to types of the neighbourhood that promote a high sense of personal safety. Children and parents may embrace other types of active mobility behaviour if road danger is mitigated. Sex/gender and age-specific interventions and redesign of public places could lead to child-friendly cities. Future studies may benefit from adopting validated measurement methods and fill existing research gaps.

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