If They Build It, Will They Come? An Evaluation of the Effects of the Redevelopment of Inner-City School Grounds on the Physical Activity of Children
Children living in lower-income and minority communities tend to have limited access to outdoor play spaces and to structured opportunities for involvement in sports and activity lessons. They are also more likely to have low levels of physical activity and high rates of obesity. Changing the environments in which children play is an essential strategy in fighting the obesity epidemic. One strategy for environmental change is through the design of safe outdoor play environments that support children’s physical activity. The Learning Landscape Initiative has implemented this environmental change in Denver by transforming 46 neglected elementary school playgrounds into attractive and safe multi-use playgrounds.
This research examines how the redevelopment of inner-city school playgrounds into Learning Landscapes influences children’s physical activity levels. Three newly renovated playgrounds and three playgrounds that were renovated over four years ago are compared to three playgrounds that have not been renovated. To identify what aspects of the playground have the greatest impact on children’s physical activity, design experts divided the playgrounds into activity areas based on area type, size, and existence of permanent improvements. Children’s physical activity was observed on the playground before school, during recess, and after school hours for four days during September and October 2005.
The Learning Landscapes appear to positively influence children’s physical activity levels.
• Children at the 6 renovated Learning Landscape playgrounds were significantly less sedentary than children at the three control sites.
• Boys were significantly less likely than girls to be sedentary at the Learning Landscape playgrounds.
• A significantly greater percentage of boys (50%) were very active at the most recently built Learning Landscapes, compared with the earlier built Learning Landscapes (44%) and the control sites (39%).
School yard design also seems to influence children’s physical activity levels.
• Boys and girls were significantly more active in the Learning Landscape play equipment areas, compared with the play equipment areas in the old playgrounds.
• The percent of boys engaged in very active physical activity on the basketball courts doubled in the Learning Landscapes (52%), compared to old playgrounds (26%).
• In contrast, girls (70%) were significantly more likely than boys (59%) to be very active on the swings, but this difference was not affected by the playground renovations.
Design recommendations based on this research:
• When designing outdoor environments for children, providing developmentally appropriate play equipment appears to be an important consideration for encouraging physical activity.
• We believe that boys’ increased activity on the basketball courts is related to the improved quality of the courts. The basketball courts at the old playgrounds were in poor condition and always missing nets. At the Learning Landscapes, maintenance of the basketball courts is a high priority and nets are replaced on a regular basis. Schools that cannot afford complete school yard renovations may still benefit by simply maintaining the basketball areas.
• Swing areas should be included in the design of children’s school yards, especially since it is one of the few areas that girls are very active.
Lois Brink, M.L.A. University of Colorado Denver, Principal Investigator
Willem van Vliet, Ph.D. University of Colorado Denver, Co-PI
Beverly Kingston, Ph.D. University of Colorado Denver, Project Director
Claudio Nigg, Ph.D. University of Hawaii, Consultant
Robin Moore, Dipl.Arch., MCP North Carolina State University, Consultant
Jason Boardman, Ph.D. University of Colorado at Boulder, Statistician
For more information about this research, contact Beverly Kingston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This research was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Active Living Research program.