HEAL team identifies interventions for increasing physical activity and creating opportunities for social connection in outdoor spaces

Canadian children and youth over the past decade have had lower and lower levels of physical activity than previous generations, and are reporting a worrying decline in their overall mental wellbeing. There is clear evidence, including previous evidence generated by the Human Environments Analysis Lab, that outdoor spaces contribute to higher rates of physical activity and better overall mental wellbeing. In turn, population health interventions in these spaces could provide opportunities to increase physical activity and social connection.
This review of intervention studies is the culmination of a contract issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada to identify effective interventions for increasing youth physical activity and social connection that could be applied to Canadian outdoor spaces. The team conducted a rapid review of the literature to identify interventions from Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and the United States. In total, 70 studies that reported on effective interventions among children and youth were identified in the review.
The majority of interventions noted the importance of natural elements and creating conditions for spontaneous play as critical elements in any outdoor space. The team also identified technology-based interventions as an emerging area of interest in the research community, with a few promising examples of how mobile devices could be used to augment youth experiences in outdoor spaces.
There remains a troubling lack of Canadian-specific research on interventions that promote greater physical activity and social connection among children and youth. In addition, policymakers need to identify when changes are occurring in policy, programs, and infrastructure so that rigorous pre-post studies can be implemented by researchers. Moreover, funding agencies should consider new models that would provide enough flexibility for researchers to react to a policy, program, and/or infrastructure change in a community
The review was published in the April 2020 edition of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s journal, Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada: Research, Policy and Practice.
Read the full-test here.

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