The impact of children's exposure to greenspace on physical activity, cognitive development, emotional wellbeing, and ability to appraise risk

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Abstract

Introduction:

The current study utilised objective techniques to investigate the relationship between children's time spent in greenspace (open land covered in grass or other vegetation) with various physical and psychological variables. Potential relationships between physical activity and greenspace with body composition, emotional wellbeing, sensation seeking tendencies, ability to appraise risk, and cognitive development are investigated.

Methods:

108 participants aged 11–14 years from three intermediate schools in Auckland, New Zealand, were assessed. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and geolocational data were recorded using accelerometers and portable global positioning system (GPS) receivers (respectively) over a 7-day period in September-December 2014. Body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-height ratio (WHtR) were calculated from height, weight, and waist circumference. Participants also completed online cognitive testing, a computerised risk appraisal tool, and a questionnaire for assessing emotional wellbeing and sensation seeking characteristics. Data analysis took place during February to May 2015. Generalised linear mixed models were used to quantify the associations between MVPA, greenspace exposure, and secondary outcome variables.

Results:

Findings confirmed that greenspace exposure is positively associated with MVPA in children (B=0.94; p<0.05). Furthermore, both greenspace exposure and MVPA were related to greater emotional wellbeing, with the former exhibiting a stronger relationship than the latter. Risk-taking and sensation seeking scores were positively associated with MVPA, but not with greenspace exposure. No associations were detected between BMI, WHtR, cognitive domains, and either MVPA or greenspace exposure.

Conclusions:

Findings support the theory that for children, greenspaces are an important environmental influence on physical activity and emotional wellbeing.

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