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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Urban Environment, also known as Urban Area, refers to a setting that is characterized by high population density and human-built features relative to the areas surrounding it. For instance, cities with high population size and density are an example of an urban environment in contrast to rural areas. With the increasing prevalence of physical inactivity and obesity in children and adolescents, a better understanding of how the urban setting may facilitate physical activity and play is warranted[1] .

Public Open Space: Access and Quality

Public Open Space (POS) is a term used by many that describes a space in urban areas and cities that provided as a means of improving the health and quality of life. It was also coined to provide alternative activities as well as a place for physical recreation for the public. As it continues to serve an important role in contemporary society, public open space serves as a community resource to increase physical activity (e.g. brisk walking, which is shown to have health benefits)[2] .

In one study that looked at public open spaces and physical activity, it was reported that close to a third of respondents used POS for physical activity. The level of access to urban spaces was also associated with the reported use. Moreover, the effect was even greater with easily accessible, large, and attractive POS was highly associated with higher levels of walking. Such study can be used with urban design and redesign to promote physical activity across the age span and population[2].

Urban-Rural Differences

The increasing prevalence of overweight and physical inactivity in children has been well documented, although the patterns and differences between urban and rural environment possesses their own factors that affect the physical activity and fitness in children. Various factors such as lifestyle, sex, and race have been widely examined, geographical factors and the differences between urban and rural environment may be given more attention with its association to children’s physical activity[1].

In one study, the prevalence of overweight was higher among rural children than urban children. With regards to physical activity, children from urban cities were the least physical active, particularly around lunchtime while at school. In addition, children from urban areas also reported less activity after school and in the evening than children from smaller cities and rural areas. Although the study showed modest yet significant differences in physical activity in levels of urbanization, it is important to note that interactions between physical activity, overweight, and one’s environment are clearly complex and has some limitations that warrant further research[1].

Independent Mobility and Physical Activity

Independent mobility is the freedom of children to travel and play in public spaces without adult supervision. Independent mobility serves as one of the major sources that provide an opportunity for habitual physical activity in children and adolescents. In addition to children’s unsupervised play and exploration in their environment, potential benefits that come with independent mobility include psychosocial, cognitive and developmental benefits through social interaction with peers, spatial and safety skills for navigating in public spaces, and decision making skills[3].

Independent mobility usually begins to incline during the transition from primary to secondary school between ages of 8 to 13 years, as parents tend to recognize the increasing physical and cognitive capabilities of their children. Due to parents’ tendency to be more protective towards girls than boys, boys tend to have higher levels of independent mobility than girls[3].

Few studies have shown the association between independent mobility to enhance physical activity levels in children. Parental licenses for their children’s independent travel were positively associated with physical activity. In addition, it was examined that children were more physically active when playing solely with peers compared with the supervision of adults. Schoeppe et al. findings showed that independent outdoor play was positively associated with light to moderate physical activity with the exclusion of public transport as a form of travel. Such evidence of independent mobility and its association to physical activity is valuable as light and moderate physical activity provide health benefits in children[3].

Active Transport In Urban Areas

Active transport is a type of transport such as walking and cycling in urban environment may have significant impacts on the population health. It has been shown that active transport is positively associated with increased improved cardiovascular health and lower body weight. However, evidence of the effects of active transport still remains unclear due to limitations in study outcome comparability and designs, as evidence is still emerging[4].

Few studies have shown the effects of active transport and its association to physical activity. One study showed that active transport to work alone was used as a means of meeting physical activity recommendation. Such study may be an important tool in promoting physical activity through active transport in both urban and rural areas. Another study reported higher levels of transportation physical activity as well as leisure-time physical activity in urban areas compared to suburban environment. In addition, residential density was also one of the factors that showed positive associated with recreational based physical activity. However, moderate to vigorous physical activity was found to be negatively associated with traffic safety in urban areas[4].


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Joens-Matre, R., Welk, G., Calabro, M., Russell, D., Nicklay, E., & Hensley, L. (2008). Rural-urban differences in physical activity, physical fitness, and overweight prevalence of children. JOURNAL OF RURAL HEALTH, 24(1), 49-54. doi:10.1111/j.1748-0361.2008.00136.x
  2. 2.0 2.1 Giles-Corti, B., Broomhall, M., Knuiman, M., Collins, C., Douglas, K., Ng, K., . . . Donovan, R. (2005). Increasing walking - how important is distance to, attractiveness, and size of public open space? American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28(2), 169-176. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2004.10.018
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Schoeppe, S., Duncan, M., Badland, H., Oliver, M., & Browne, M. (2014; 2013). Associations between children's independent mobility and physical activity. BMC PUBLIC HEALTH, 14(1), 91-91. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-91
  4. 4.0 4.1 Wen, L. M., Rissel, C., & Fu, H. (2013). The effect of active transport, transport systems, and urban design on population health. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2013, 1-2. doi:10.1155/2013/457159