A Review of the Literature: The Relationship between the Playground Environment and Physical Activity Levels of Children

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Ipuna E. Black, PhD, MSN, BSN, RN
School of Nursing, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV, USA

Introduction: Almost 20% of American children aged 6 to 11 years are obese. A decrease in physical activity (PA) has been associated with an increase in obesity. The school environment is one place where many children can be reached. The purpose of this paper was to review interventions aimed to improve PA on the playground environment in elementary school children, and make recommendations to develop related best practices.  

Method: The extensive literature review guided by the Ecological Model of Four Domains of Active Living was conducted to include all primary research articles between January 2001 and November 2014 evaluating policy, individual, social, and physical environmental variables with PA as an outcome during leisure time in the elementary school setting.

Results: The included 26 articles represented both settings within the U.S and internationally, among elementary/primary schools. Policy positively influenced access to PA opportunities in the elementary school setting. Boys spend more time in moderate to vigorous PA than girls, but it is important to provide playground environments that are inviting for increased PA for both genders. The association among weather, supervision, playground markings, fixed equipment, and supervision with PA levels was undetermined. The association among loose equipment, offering an organized PA program with PA levels in children predominately had a positive relationship with PA levels in children.    

Conclusions: Research in the area of the playground physical environment and its association to PA levels in children is growing. There are several low-cost strategies that can be implemented to maximize the PA levels of children during offered leisure time while at school. Long-term follow-up studies are needed to identify sustainability of such interventions and polices that influence PA levels in children.