The Influence of Time Spent in Outdoor Play on Daily and Aerobic Step Count in Costa Rican Children
Type of Degreedissertation
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There is strong evidence that children’s health associated with obesity is a major concern for nations around the world (Sharma, 2007; Wang & Lobstein, 2006). World efforts are being made to improve and protect their health. Research has shown that there are a number of variables associated with this obesity epidemic (i.e., poor nutritional habits, genetics, low socioeconomic status) (Koplan, Liverman, & Kraak, 2005; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996), and that physical inactivity is a strong contributor (Cleland et al., 2008; Hands & Parker, 2008). According to Sallis, Prochaska, and Taylor (2000) time spent outdoors is one of the most consistent predictors of children’s physical activity. Evidence has also demonstrated that outdoor play has a positive impact in children’s health (Clements, 2004; Frost, 2006; Pretty et al., 2007; Tabbush & O’Brien, 2003; Taylor & Kuo, 2008). However, the influence of time spent in outdoor play, and daily aerobic step count is less understood. The purpose of this study is to examine the influence of time spent in outdoor play (i.e., on weekday and weekend days) on daily (i.e., average step count) and aerobic step count (i.e., average moderate to vigorous physical activity [MVPA] during the weekdays and weekend days) in fifth grade Costa Rican children. It was hypothesized that: (a) children who spent more time in outdoor play (as measured by item #6 in the Children’s Outdoor Play Survey) would demonstrate a higher daily step count for the weekdays (Monday through Friday), (b) children who spent more time in outdoor (as measured by item #7 in the Children’s Outdoor Play Survey) would demonstrate a higher step count for the weekend days, (c) children who spent more time in outdoor play (as measured by item #6 in the Children’s Outdoor Play Survey) would demonstrate a higher daily aerobic (MVPA) step count for the weekdays, (d) children who spent more time in outdoor play (as measured by item #7 in the Children’s Outdoor Play Survey) would demonstrate a higher daily aerobic (MVPA) step count for the weekend days and (e) boys would demonstrate a higher daily and aerobic (MVPA) step count during weekdays and weekend days when compared to girls. A total of 190 fifth grade children, from 3 public schools, participated in this study. After having attained parental letters of consent and children’s assent forms (with appropriate signatures), the researcher measured the weight, height and stride length of all participants. An Omron HJ-720 ITC pedometer was distributed to each child and asked to wear it for one week (five week days and two weekend days) during waking hours to assess physical activity. At the end of the week the researcher collected the pedometers from the participants and administered the Children’s Outdoor Play Survey. Four 2 (Sex) x 3 (Time Spent Outdoors Groups) ANOVAs were conducted to determine the effects of Time spent outdoors on physical activity (pedometer step counts and aerobic step counts) for week days and weekend days. Results revealed a significant main effect for Groups (time playing outdoors), F(2,184) = 4.106, η2= .043, p = .018, and for Sex, F(1,184) = 8.600, η2= .045, p = .004, on daily average step count for the weekdays. Post hoc analyses indicated that the daily average step count was significantly lower for Group 1 (i.e., less than 1 hour) than for Group 3 (i.e., 3 hours or more), F (2,184) = 4.106, p = .018. Observing the means revealed that girls acquired significantly fewer step counts than boys for the weekdays. There was no interaction between Groups and Sex on daily step count for weekdays. The analyses also indicated a main effect for Sex on daily average step count for weekend days F(1,184) = 4.873, η2= .026, p = .029. Similarly to the weekdays, the girl’s daily average step count for the weekend days was significantly lower than the boys. There was no Group main effect of time spent playing outdoors and no interaction between Groups and Sex on daily step count for weekend days. Results also showed that there was a main effect for sex on daily aerobic step count for weekdays, F(1,184) = 11.105, η2= .057, p = .001 and on daily aerobic step count for weekend days, F(1,184) = 6.012, η2= 0.32, p = .015. Girls average fewer aerobic step counts than boys. There was no Group main effect and no interaction between Groups and Sex on daily aerobic step count for the weekday and weekend days. In conclusion, it appears that encouraging children to spend three or more hours in outdoor play may be a useful strategy for increasing daily step counts over the weekdays. Results also reveal that boys engaged in more daily steps and more daily aerobic steps than girls in daily step counts for all days of the week; and that few children who participated in this study sample actually met the United States daily step count recommendation. Finally, the findings revealed that daily average step counts and average aerobic step counts for the weekend days are lower for Costa Rican fifth grade children when compared to the weekdays. These findings have implications for the health of Costa Rican children. Future policy recommendations in Costa Rica should focus on promoting children’s physical activity engagement and outdoor play.