Are children and adolescents less active if parents restrict their physical activity and active transport due to perceived risk?

Alison Carver, Anna Timperio, Kylie Hesketh, David Crawford
Social Science & Medicine 2010, 70 (11): 1799-805
The study examined parental restriction of children's active transport and physical activity outside school hours due to safety concerns, and how this restriction was associated with perceived risk and with youth physical activity levels. We used a cross-sectional design with data from children aged 10-11 years (n=170) and adolescents aged 15-17 years (n=270) who participated in the five-year follow-up of the Children Living in Active Neighbourhoods longitudinal study in Melbourne, Australia. Walking/cycling to local destinations was survey-reported. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) was recorded during non-school hours using accelerometers. Using surveys, parents reported perceived risk of their children being harmed in their neighbourhood, and restrictions they placed on their children's physical activity. Linear regression analyses examined how perceived risk, constrained behaviour, and physical activity were related. We found that perceived risk did not vary by age-group and was positively associated with constrained behaviour among adolescents but not children. Children were subject to higher levels of constrained behaviour than adolescents. Constrained behaviour was negatively associated with active transport among younger boys and among girls in both age-groups. Furthermore, it was negatively associated with younger boys' MVPA on weekends and with adolescent girls' MVPA during evenings. There were no associations between constrained behaviour and active transport or MVPA among adolescent boys. The findings demonstrate that constrained behaviour exhibited by parents may result in lower levels of active transport and of MVPA outside school hours. In particular, this was true for children and adolescent girls. Social interventions to improve perceived safety and physical interventions involving redesign of the built environment to improve actual safety may help to ease parental restriction of their children's active transport and physical activity in their neighbourhood.

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