Background: This pilot study aimed at investigating the effectiveness of lowering playground density on increasing children's physical activity and decreasing sedentary time. Also the feasibility of this intervention was tested.
Methods: Data were collected in September and October 2012 in three Belgian schools in 187, 9-12 year old children. During the intervention, playground density was decreased by splitting up recesses and decreasing the number of children sharing the playground. A within-subject design was used. Children wore accelerometers during the study week. Three-level (class - participant - measurement (baseline or intervention)) linear regression models were used to determine intervention effects. After the intervention week the school principals filled out a questionnaire concerning the feasibility of the intervention.
Results: The available play space was 12.18 ± 4.19 m²/child at baseline and increased to 24.24 ± 8.51 m²/child during intervention. During the intervention sedentary time decreased (-0.58 min/recess; -3.21%/recess) and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (+1.04 min/recess; +5.9%/recess) increased during recess and during the entire school day (sedentary time: -3.29%/school day; moderate-to-vigorous physical activity +1.16%/school day). All principals agreed that children enjoyed the intervention; but some difficulties were reported.
Conclusions: Lowering playground density can be an effective intervention for decreasing children's sedentary time and increasing their physical activity levels during recess; especially in least active children.