Children becoming less active and independent, New Zealand study finds

Children in New Zealand are spending more and more time close to home as they become less active and less independent, a study has found.

A combined study by Auckland, Otago and Harvard University tracked a group of children aged 11-13 and found that they spent more than 50% of their non-school time within 500 metres of the family home. They typically left to visit their school, friends’ homes and food outlets such as takeaway shops and convenience stores.

Tim Chambers, lead researcher on the The Kids in Space study, published in the journal Social Science Medicine, said the findings supported current trends for modern kids to be less active and independent than previous generations, as fears about neighbourhood safety rose and daily physical activity decreased.

“This study is the first to quantify the size of New Zealand children’s actual neighbourhoods and the time they spend in them, and where else they go,” said Chambers.

“Children in the study most often visited school and other residential locations, showing that school is a significant leisure setting outside school hours”.

The research used wearable cameras and GPS technology to measure more than 100 children’s leisure activities for four days between Thursday and Sunday.

Children visited food outlets as often as sporting and outdoor recreation venues combined, with children visiting food outlets twice a day and spending 14% of all their non-school time there, the study found.

Considering a third of all New Zealand children are overweight or obese, the amount of time they were spending at food shops rather than parks or outdoor areas was worrying, said Chambers.

“There is now mounting evidence of the link between neighbourhood and wellbeing. The constrained nature of children’s neighbourhoods heightens the impact of local facilities and retailers on their health,” said Chambers.

Associate professor Louise Signal of the University of Otago in Wellington said community action and government leadership was needed to create healthy neighbourhood environments for New Zealand children.

“Recent positive changes include local retailers refusing to sell junk food to children in school uniform, and local communities stopping new alcohol outlets in their neighbourhoods,” Signal said.

Over 100 children were randomly recruited from 16 school zones in the Wellington region for the study.

Article source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/13/children-less-active-independent-health-new-zealand-study-finds

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