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Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2009 Mar 16;6:15. doi: 10.1186/1479-5868-6-15.

Time spent playing outdoors after school and its relationship with independent mobility: a cross-sectional survey of children aged 10-12 years in Sydney, Australia.

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Health Promotion Service, Sydney South West Area Health Service, Syndey, Australia.



Time spent outdoors is positively associated with physical activity and has been suggested as a proxy for physical activity of children. The role of children's independence in physical activity and time spent outdoors is less understood. This study aimed to assess how much time children spent playing outdoors after school, and to explore the relationship between outdoor play and independence among children aged 10-12 years.


Children recorded how much time they spent playing outdoors or watching TV/videos or playing computer games after school using a five-day diary, and also reported whether they were allowed to walk on their own in their neighbourhood as an indicator of their independent mobility. Parents were surveyed on family demographics and perception of neighbourhood safety. The surveys were conducted in late 2006 as part of the Central Sydney Walk to School program which involved 1975 children and their parents from 24 primary schools. Factors associated with time spent playing outdoors were determined by logistic regression modelling.


Thirty-seven per cent of children spent less than half an hour a day playing outdoors after school, and 43% spent more than 2 hours a day watching TV, videos or playing computer games. Forty-eight per cent of children were allowed to walk on their own near where they lived. Children's independent mobility was significantly associated with outdoor play after adjusting for other confounders. Compared with those who were never allowed to walk on their own near where they lived, students who were allowed to walk on their own were significantly more likely to spend more than half an hour a day playing outdoors after school with an adjusted odds ratio of 2.6, 95% CI 1.84-3.58, P < 0.001.


The findings that a significant proportion of children spend less than half an hour a day playing outdoors after school and have excessive screen time have important implications for physical activity promotion and obesity prevention. The study also suggests that children's independent mobility should be considered in research and evaluation into children's play and physical activity. Environments that promote greater independent mobility in children may increase their physical activity levels and hence reduce their risk of overweight/obesity.

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