How important is the big Aussie backyard?

Yard size doesn’t affect children’s physical activity levels, so kids might be okay if cities and backyards shrink, according to a new study, published in Public Health.

The study, led by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and the University of Melbourne, found that neither sedentary behaviours nor exercise increased with backyard size in Melbourne. Regardless, children were still meeting an average of 60 minutes physical activity a day.

“This suggests that child physical activity may not suffer as we densify our cities and reduce the size of yards,” says MCRI researcher Jessica Oakely. “There was also no link between the amount of yard greenness and physical activity or outdoor play.”

This could impact urban design as cities develop and change by instead identifying which other areas of communities encourage physical activity.

“Physical activity has health and developmental benefits for young children, including mitigating the risks of obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease and improving motor and cognitive development,” says Suzanne Mavoa, of MCRI and the University of Melbourne.

“As cities become increasingly densified, urban design, shared indoor and outdoor spaces and schools will need to play a greater role in supporting young children’s physical activity and active play.”

Read more: Exercising 10 minutes a week cuts death risk

In particular, shared outdoor play areas may be more effective than the backyard.

“This research indicates the importance and value of public outdoor spaces such as parks in supporting physical activity and play for all children, no matter their background or where they live,” says Melissa Wake of MCRI, the project director.

“Improving equity in health outcomes for all children is a core value of MCRI’s GenV research project.

“GenV – Generation Victoria – is one of the world’s largest-ever birth and parent cohort studies. It will help government and policy-makers assess and access future research studies similar to this one to help better plan for policy solutions now and into the future, including looking at the environments children are growing up in.”

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