Measuring Physical Activity Affordances in Preschool Outdoor Environments
Robin Moore, MCP
The specific research goal of this study is to identify discriminatory environmental items in preschool play areas to be included in a pilot tool that will rate their potential to produce physical activity when three-to five- year-old children are exposed to them. Currently, no tool exists that links the amount of physical activity and preschool play areas, with the potential of affecting policy. This study will characterize behavior settings, their components and attributes, in terms of the physical activity patterns of understudied population preschool childcare centers. Research has shown that: a) time spent outdoors is an environmental determinant most strongly correlated with greater amounts of physical activity in children and opportunities for whole body exercise; b) children's physical activity is strongly motivated by diversity of outdoor environments; c) preschoolers with higher levels of outdoor physical activity retain higher levels as school age children; d) active outdoor childhood tracks into and influences the preference for outdoor experiences in adulthood; and e) the preschool and, more specifically the preschool outdoors is a strong determinant of physical activity. Fifteen childcare centers will be selected from respondents to the Baseline Survey of Environmental Conditions of Outdoor Areas in NC Childcare Centers. Sites range across urban, suburban, and rural contexts and diverse ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Research activities: 1. Behavior mapping (GIS coded) of preschool play areas to identify physical activity patterns in specific behavior settings (spatial location of subjects and physical activity amount); 2. Inventory of environmental components and attributes of behavior settings associated with different amounts of physical activity; 3. Identification of discriminatory environmental items to be included in a draft measuring tool; 4. Develop pilot measuring tool; 5. Preliminary test of reliability and validity. This study responds to the Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research, including the goals to "Assess children's environments...to determine barriers to increasing physical activity"; to "Identify...environmental and behavioral factors to obesity...prevention...and assess... environments such as...childcare...for specific barriers to increasing physical activity"; and to "Use prospective observational studies to identify modifiable behavioral and environmental determinants of weight gain and obesity in children...[related to] critical periods for inappropriate weight gain" i.e., in childcare centers.