Backyard benefits? A cross-sectional study of yard size and greenness and children’s physical activity and outdoor play

Jessica Oakley, Rachel L. Peters, Melissa Wake, Anneke C. Grobler, Jessica A. Kerr, Kate Lycett, Raisa Cassim, Melissa Russell, Cong Sun, Mimi L.K. Tang, Jennifer J. Koplin, Suzanne Mavoa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: The home environment is the most important location in young children’s lives, yet few studies have examined the relationship between the outdoor home environment and child physical activity levels, and even fewer have used objectively measured exposures and outcomes. This study examined relationships between objectively assessed home yard size and greenness, and child physical activity and outdoor play. Methods: Data were drawn from the HealthNuts study, a longitudinal study of 5276 children in Melbourne, Australia. We used cross-sectional data from a sample at Wave 3 (2013–2016) when participants were aged 6 years (n = 1648). A sub-sample of 391 children had valid accelerometer data collected from Tri-axial GENEActive accelerometers worn on their non-dominant wrist for 8 consecutive days. Yard area and greenness were calculated using geographic information systems. Objective outcome measures were minutes/day in sedentary, light, and moderate-vigorous physical activity (weekday and weekend separately). Parent-reported outcome measures were minutes/day playing outdoors (weekend and weekday combined). Multi-level regression models (adjusted for child’s sex, mother’s age at the birth of child, neighbourhood socioeconomic index, maternal education, and maternal ethnicity) estimated effects of yard size and greenness on physical activity. Results: Data were available on outdoor play for 1648 children and usable accelerometer data for 391. Associations between yard size/greenness and components of physical activity were minimal. For example, during weekdays, yard size was not associated with daily minutes in sedentary behaviour (β: 2.4, 95% CI: − 6.2, 11.0), light physical activity (β: 1.4, 95% CI: − 5.7, 8.5) or MVPA (β: -2.4, 95% CI: − 6.5, 1.7), with similar patterns at weekends. There was no relationship between median annual yard greenness and physical activity or play. Conclusion: In our study of young children residing in higher socio-economic areas of Melbourne yard characteristics did not appear to have a major impact on children’s physical activity. Larger studies with greater variation in yard characteristics and identification of activity location are needed to better understand the importance of home outdoor spaces and guide sustainable city planning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1402
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


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