New public health recommendation: Children should play in the street

Who knew that children should be playing in the street?

High traffic areas discourage children from playing in streets, report Canadian public health researchers — and this is a bad thing.

Here’s the media release:

More intersections mean less outdoor activity for children

High intersection density and well-connected streets in towns and cities may discourage children from being active and exercising outdoors, according to a Queen’s University study.

“We’ve known for a while that high street connectivity—well-connected streets and a high density of intersections in a given area—helps adults stay physically active since it makes it easier and more efficient for them to walk to work or a local store,” says Graham Mecredy, the lead researcher and a graduate student in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology. “However, our findings suggest that high street connectivity has the opposite effect on children’s physical activity.”

By mapping physical activity results from the 2006 Canadian Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Survey (HBSC) onto street data provided by a geographical information system, the team found that youth aged 11 to 16 years who live in neighbourhoods with streets that are well connected tend to have lower physical activity levels than youth who live in neighbourhoods with streets that are modestly or poorly connected.

“Playing street hockey is an example of how street connectivity and density can influence the physical activity of youth,” says Mr. Mecredy. “When traffic increases, or when you don’t have access to a quiet cul-de-sac, the game and the associated physical activity may both disappear.”

A follow-up study by the same team indicates that while low street connectivity increases children’s activity levels, it also results in an increase in minor physical injuries related to bicycle mishaps. The researchers believe that safety initiatives for bicycle use and street designs that encourage bicycle and car separation can help mitigate these incidents.

The team hopes that the findings from both studies will help inform urban and public health policies to improve physical activity among Canadian children.

It is, of course, possible that kids who live in better connected neighborhoods are better connected — to the Internet and other high-tech pastimes, that is. We doubt it makes sense to blame urban planners and developers for kids lost to Guitar Hero, texting, and 200 cable channels.

5 thoughts on “New public health recommendation: Children should play in the street”

  1. Having kids play in the street will result in very healthy, agile, alert and physically superior kids. Fewer kids mind you, but the survivors will indeed be the fittest.

  2. Somebody is using data mining to rationalize a hypothesis. Outdoor play is for the very young, falling off by about age 12 when kids just want to ‘hang’ with their peers.
    Being a warm weather kid, I never played street hockey – we played baseball. By the time we were 10, we would go to the schoolyard to play. As soon as puberty kicked in, though, there were other demands on our energies.

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