Studying Physical Activity in Children’s Environments (SPACES)

Father and daughter playing football in a park

Studying Physical Activity in Children’s Environments (SPACES) was our Scotland-wide, nationally representative study to investigate how the environment influences the physical activity levels of Scottish children and adolescents.

Combining children’s physical activity (PA) levels using accelerometry with locational information from GPS devices, SPACES was the first nationally representative study of its kind. The rich data provided by SPACES allows us to explore the environmental barriers and facilitators of children’s mobility and PA.

We have used the data to assess levels of, and inequalities in, children’s PA, and found that the prevalence of children meeting government recommendations can vary between 11% and 68% depending on the analytical method used. Our finding has already had policy impact – we were part of the Expert Working Group for the development of the new UK Chief Medical Officer’s Physical Activity Guidelines for children and young people, which recommended the adoption of one of the methods used in our paper.

We have also used the SPACES data to assess environmental influence on PA, finding that play spaces which offer a sense of risk are popular locations and that children want influence over the design of these spaces. We also explored urban/rural differences in activity levels and variations in children’s activity space and are using the data to explore the impact of urban landscapes on children’s mobility.

Although SPACES was designed with a principle focus on physical activity, the information it provided about where children go and spend time makes it a valuable tool for investigating both the function of complex urban systems and inequalities in exposure to unhealthy commodities. 

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