Background: The physical qualities of outdoor environments are important to trigger healthy behavior in children. We studied the impact of outdoor environments upon spontaneous physical activity and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in 4- to 6-year-old children at 11 preschools in Stockholm county.
Methods: In May-June 2004, pedometry and measurement of UV radiation were carried out on 197 children from 11 preschools in Stockholm county. Outdoor environments differed regarding vegetation, topography, space, and education. Ambient global UV radiation data were collected, free sky, and ground surface assessed. Arrival, in- and outdoor stay, and departure were recorded. For analysis, linear mixed model analysis was applied.
Results: In environments with trees, shrubbery, and broken ground, the mean step count/min was 21.5, and mean exposure to UV radiation as fraction of available UV during play outdoors 14.6%. In delimited environments with little vegetation, the mean step count/min was 17.7 and mean exposure fraction to UV radiation 24.3% (P < 0.001, crude). Step/min range was 8.9-30.0 (girls) and 8.8-37.2 (boys), UV radiation exposure range 4-60% (no difference between genders).
Conclusion: Spacious preschool environments with trees, shrubbery, and broken ground trigger physical activity and yield sun protection in outdoor play. As many children attend preschool, access to such environments is recommended in community architecture.