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A longitudinal study of children’s outside play using family environment and perceived physical environment as predictors

Teun Remmers14*, Suzanne ML Broeren1, Carry M Renders3, Remy A Hirasing2, Amy van Grieken1 and Hein Raat1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC University Medical Center, P.O. Box 2040, 3000 Rotterdam, CA, The Netherlands

2 Department of Public and Occupational Health, EMGO Institute of Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 Institute of Health Sciences, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, EMGO Institute of Health and Care Research, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

4 Department of Epidemiology, CAPHRI School for Public Health and Primary Care, Maastricht University Medical Center+, Maastricht, The Netherlands

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2014, 11:76  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-11-76

Published: 16 June 2014



A natural and cheap way of increasing children’s physical activity is stimulating unstructured outside play.


This study examined whether characteristics of the family and perceived physical environment were associated with the duration of children’s outside play.


Parents participating in the “Be Active, Eat Right” cluster RCT control group (N = 2007) provided information on potential predictors of outside play (i.e. family and perceived physical environment) of their 5-year-old child by questionnaire. Child outside play was assessed by parental reports both at five and seven years. Linear regression analyses, adjusted for seasonality, were performed to evaluate associations between potential predictors and child outside play. Linear mixed models were fitted to evaluate the relationship between potential predictors and the development of outside play over two years, with season entered as a random factor.


Family environment was the strongest construct predicting child outside play, while parent perceived physical environment had no significant association with child outside play. Parental habit strength and the presence of rules were the strongest predictors of increased outside play. Parent perceived difficulty in improving child outside play was the strongest predictor of decreased outside play.


Family environment predicted child outside play and not perceived physical environment. Parental rules and habit strength regarding improving outside play were associated with an improvement of child’s engagement in outside play.