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Friday 7 October 2016 12:24pm


Promoting year-round healthy levels of outdoor activity by New Zealand children will require changing social norms about playing outside in winter, new research suggests.

Geographers from Otago, Auckland and Massey universities undertook an in-depth study of 20 Auckland families with a child aged between eight and 10. Half lived in the suburbs and half were central city dwellers.

Despite Auckland's temperate climate making outdoor play feasible all year round, the researchers found that such activity was not common among the children in the study.

Study member Dr Christina Ergler of Otago's Department of Geography says that the parents did not encourage their children to use public open spaces in winter as they saw adverse weather and shorter days as a barrier.

“We found that the dominant perception in both the suburban and urban families is that outdoor play is not suitable and 'boring' during winter,” Dr Ergler says.

Only a small number of children in both study locations enjoyed outdoor play in both summer and winter.

Dr Christina Ergler.

“These children incorporated wet weather or muddy fields into their play activities, such as jumping into puddles and mud.”

Dr Ergler says the acceptability of children engaging in outdoor play in all seasons needs to be promoted and normalised.

In their paper appearing in the international journal Health & Place Dr Ergler and colleagues Professor Robin Kearns (Auckland) and Professor Karen Witten (Massey) write that “social norms err towards outdoor team sports and indoor play as the sanctioned practices for winter in suburban and inner city areas alike.”

“To shift these embedded beliefs and practices and create public spaces that encourage children's outdoor play in winter will require change at multiple scales – within the family, neighbourhood and city,” they concluded.

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