Background: Although environmental characteristics as perceived by parents are known to be related to children's outdoor play behavior, less is known about the relation between independently measured neighborhood characteristics and outdoor play among children. The purpose of this study was to identify quantitative as well as qualitative neighborhood characteristics related to outdoor play by means of neighborhood observations.
Methods: Questionnaires including questions on outdoor play behavior of the child were distributed among 3,651 parents of primary school children (aged 4-12 years). Furthermore, neighborhood observations were conducted in 33 Dutch neighborhoods to map neighborhood characteristics such as buildings, formal outdoor play facilities, public space, street pattern, traffic safety, social neighborhood characteristics, and general impression. Data of the questionnaires and the neighborhood observations were coupled via postal code of the respondents. Multilevel GEE analyses were performed to quantify the correlation between outdoor play and independently measured neighborhood characteristics.
Results: Parental education was negatively associated with outdoor play among children. Neither the presence nor the overall quality of formal outdoor play facilities were (positively) related to outdoor play among children in this study. Rather, informal play areas such as the presence of sidewalks were related to children's outdoor play. Also, traffic safety was an important characteristic associated with outdoor play.
Conclusions: This study showed that, apart from individual factors such as parental education level, certain modifiable characteristics in the neighborhood environment (as measured by neighborhood observations) were associated with outdoor play among boys and girls of different age groups in The Netherlands. Local policy makers from different sectors can use these research findings in creating more activity-friendly neighborhoods for children.