Environmental Interventions for Healthy Development of Young Children in the Outdoors

Author: Nilda Cosco

Early childhood environmental interventions are needed to counteract the health crisis caused by sedentary lifestyles. In the UK, 16% of children aged 2 to 15 are obese (Health Survey for England, 2002). In the US more than 10% 2-5 year olds are overweight (Ogden, et al., 2002). The widespread perception that young children are innately active and interventions are not needed is a barrier for creating appropriate modifications to children’s routines and environments. The fact is that young children are only active for short periods each day (Reilly, 2004). Provision of recreational facilities that allow children and families to enjoy prolonged and engaging stays outdoors are critical because the outdoors is a strong correlate of physical activity (Baranowski, et al., 2000; Sallis, et al., 1993). Also, diverse natural environments support attention functioning, gross motor development, health, and richer play behaviors (Faber Taylor, et al., 2001; Grahn, et al., 1997). In addition, the childcare centre, an institution that millions of children attend everyday, is the highest predictor of activity (Finn, et al., 2002) and may become a critical environment for more systematic preventive measures. For this to happen, in-depth studies are needed to discover the characteristics and dynamics of early childhood outdoor play environments that afford physical activity.

Presented at the Open Space Conference, Scotland, 2005