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Kids in Space Study: Where do our children go?

Wellington campus

Thursday, 9 November 2017 4:11pm

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Photos of childrens' typical environments, supplied by University of Otago Wellington.

New Zealand children stick close to home, innovative research from Otago, Auckland and Harvard Universities has revealed.

The ‘Kids in Space’ study found that children aged 11-13 spent more than 50 per cent of their non-school time within 500 metres of home, typically leaving to visit school, other residences and food retail outlets.

Lead researcher Tim Chambers suggests that the concentration of time spent within 500m of home supports current trends of the decreasing independence of children in part due to less physical activity and fears about neighbourhood safety.

“This study is the first to quantify the size of NZ children’s actual neighbourhoods and the time they spend in them, and where else they go” says Tim Chambers, a research fellow in the Health Promotion & Policy Research Unit at the University of Otago, Wellington.

The study was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine and reports the results of an auxiliary study of the Kids’Cam Study, which examined the world in which children live.

Providing the best estimate to date of the extent of children’s neighbourhoods by using information gathered from the children themselves, the findings have wide reaching implications for a range of sectors including health, urban planning, education and police.

The research used wearable camera and GPS technology to measure children’s leisure activities for four days, Thursday - Sunday. It is the first study to analyse children’s movements in this way. Previous research has relied on using postcodes or other geographic units to define children’s neighbourhoods.

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Lead researcher Tim Chambers.

“Children in the study most often visited school and other residential locations, showing that school is a significant leisure setting outside school hours,” says Tim Chambers.

Children visited food retail outlets as often as sporting and outdoor recreation venues combined. On average children visited food retail outlets twice a day, spending 14 per cent of all their non-school time there.

The researchers say this is concerning given that one third of NZ children are overweight or obese.

"There is now mounting evidence of the link between neighbourhood and wellbeing. The constrained nature of children’s neighbourhoods heightens the impact of local facilities and retailers on their health,” Chambers says.

“Community action and government leadership is needed to create healthy environments for our children,” says Associate Professor Louise Signal. Recent positive changes include local retailers refusing to sell junk food to children in school uniform and local communities stopping new alcohol outlets in their neighbourhoods.

Those concerned with the wellbeing of children need to consider both children’s home environment and the other venues commonly visited by children such as school, food retail outlets, community and sports venues. For example, implementing healthy zones around schools that prevent junk food and alcohol sales and marketing.

The children were randomly selected and recruited from 16 randomly selected schools in the Wellington region.

The research was funded by the Health Research Council of NZ as part of the DIET research programme (13/724) led by Professor Cliona Ni Mhurchu at the University of Auckland.

The research is available free for the next 30 days.

Tim Chambers’ research was also funded by through a Fulbright Scholarship undertaken at Harvard University.

For further information, contact:


Tim Chambers
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
Email: tim.chambers@otago.ac.nz

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