School and neighbourhood recreational environments and their impact on physical activity participation among Canadian youth

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Nichol, Marianne Elizabeth
Physical activity , environment
Background: Less than half of Canadian youth meet recommended levels of physical activity. This is of concern given the health burden associated with physical inactivity. With the limited success of physical activity interventions, research has begun to focus on how physical and sociocultural environments affect physical activity. Investigation of school and neighbourhood characteristics that facilitate physical activity may identify environmental changes that could increase participation among adolescents. Objectives: The objectives of the two studies comprising the thesis were to examine, among youth in grades 6 through 10: 1) the association between school recreational characteristics and physical activity during free-time and class-time at school, and 2) the effects of perceptions of neighbourhood safety and availability of parks and recreational facilities on physical activity participation outside of school. Methods: Data from the 2006 Canadian Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children Survey (HBSC) were analyzed. Multilevel logistic regression was employed to quantify associations between school and neighbourhood characteristics and physical activity. For the first study, student responses to school-time physical activity scales were dichotomized (≥ 2 vs. <2 hours/week). A cumulative index that considered together policies, varsity and intramural athletics, presence and condition of fields, and condition of gymnasia was constructed based on principals’ reports. In the second study, physical activity outside of school was dichotomized (≥ 4 vs. <4 hours/week). A scale of individuals’ perceptions of safety was constructed. The number of parks and recreational facilities within a 5 km buffer of schools was abstracted from a geographical information system. Results: Objective 1. School recreational features were modestly positively related to adolescents’ physical activity at school, particularly that occurring during free-time. The cumulative effect of school recreational features exerted a stronger effect than any single feature. Objective 2. Perceptions of safety were associated with students’ physical activity, whereas increased availability of parks and recreational facilities neither prevented nor promoted physical activity. Conclusions: Objective 1. High levels of recreational support at schools might promote physical activity among young people. This could inform educational policies and support funding of school recreational opportunities. Objective 2. Improving perceptions of safety might promote physical activity participation among youth.
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