Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Original Article
  • Published:

A prospective examination of children's time spent outdoors, objectively measured physical activity and overweight


Objective: This study aimed to determine whether time spent outdoors was associated with objectively measured physical activity, body mass index (BMI) z-score and overweight in elementary-school aged children, cross-sectionally and prospectively over 3 years.

Methods: Three-year cohort study with data collected during 2001 and 2004. Nineteen randomly selected state elementary schools across Melbourne, Australia. One hundred and eighty eight 5–6-year-old and 360 10–12-year-old children. Baseline parent reports of children's time spent outdoors during warmer and cooler months, on weekdays and weekends. At baseline and follow-up, children's moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA) was objectively assessed by accelerometry, and BMI z-score and overweight was calculated from measured height and weight.

Results: Cross-sectionally, each additional hour outdoors on weekdays and weekend days during the cooler months was associated with an extra 27 min week−1 MVPA among older girls, and with an extra 20 min week−1 MVPA among older boys. Longitudinally, more time outdoors on weekends predicted higher MVPA on weekends among older girls and boys (5 min week−1). The prevalence of overweight among older children at follow-up was 27–41% lower among those spending more time outdoors at baseline.

Conclusion: Encouraging 10–12-year-old children to spend more time outdoors may be an effective strategy for increasing physical activity and preventing increases in overweight and obesity. Intervention research investigating the effect of increasing time outdoors on children's physical activity and overweight is warranted.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Butland B, Jebb S, Kopelman P, McPherson K, Thomas S, Mardell J et al. Foresight. Tackling Obesities: Future Choices—Project Report. Government Office for Science: UK, 2007.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bronfenbrenner U . Making Human Beings Human. Bioecological Perspectives on Human Development. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks: CA, 2005.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Sallis J, Owen N . Ecological models of health behavior. In: Glanz K, Rimer BK, Lewis FM (eds). Health Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research & Practice. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, USA, 2002; 462–484.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Ferreira I, van der Horst K, Wendel-Vos W, Kremers S, van Lenthe FJ, Brug J . Environmental correlates of physical activity in youth—a review and update. Obes Rev 2007; 8: 129–154.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Baranowski T, Thompson WO, DuRant RH, Baranowski J, Puhl J . Observations on physical activity in physical locations: age, gender, ethnicity, and month effects. Res Q Exerc Sport 1993; 64: 127–133.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Klesges RC, Eck LH, Hanson CL, Haddock CK, Klesges LM . Effects of obesity, social interactions, and physical environment on physical activity in preschoolers. Health Psychol 1990; 9: 435–449.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Sallis JF, Nader PR, Broyles SL, Berry CC, Elder JP, McKenzie TL et al. Correlates of physical activity at home in Mexican-American and Anglo-American preschool children. Health Psychol 1993; 12: 390–398.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. DuRant RH, Baranowski T, Johnson M, Thompson WO . The relationship among television watching, physical activity, and body composition of young children. Pediatrics 1994; 94: 449–455.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Burdette HL, Whitaker RC . A national study of neighborhood safety, outdoor play, television viewing, and obesity in preschool children. Pediatrics 2005; 116: 657–662.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Telford A, Salmon J, Timperio AF, Crawford DA . Examining physical activity among 5- to 6- and 10- to 12-year-old children: the Children's Leisure Activities Study. Ped Exer Sci 2005; 17: 266.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Timperio A, Crawford D, Telford A, Salmon J . Perceptions about the local neighborhood and walking and cycling among children. Prev Med 2004; 38: 39–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Timperio A, Salmon J, Telford A, Crawford D . Perceptions of local neighbourhood environments and their relationship to childhood overweight and obesity. Int J Obes (Lond) 2005; 29: 170–175.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Epstein LH, Paluch RA, Coleman KJ, Vito D, Anderson K . Determinants of physical activity in obese children assessed by accelerometer and self-report. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1996; 28: 1157–1164.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Guillaume M, Lapidus L, Bjorntorp P, Lambert A . Physical activity, obesity, and cardiovascular risk factors in children. The Belgian Luxembourg Child Study II. Obes Res 1997; 5: 549–556.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Mo F, Turner M, Krewski D, Mo FD . Physical inactivity and socioeconomic status in Canadian adolescents. Int J Adolesc Med Health 2005; 17: 49–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Trost SG, Ward DS, Moorehead SM, Watson PD, Riner W, Burke JR . Validity of the computer science and applications (CSA) activity monitor in children. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998; 30: 629–633.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Gordon-Larsen P, McMurray R, Popkin B . Determinants of adolescent physical activity and inactivity patterns. Pediatrics 2000; 105: 83–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Trost SG, Pate RR, Freedson PS, Sallis JF, Taylor WC . Using objective physical activity measures with youth: how many days of monitoring are needed? Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000; 32: 426–431.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Trost SG, Pate RR, Sallis JF, Freedson PS, Taylor WC, Dowda M et al. Age and gender differences in objectively measured physical activity in youth. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2002; 34: 350–355.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Cole TJ, Bellizzi MC, Flegal KM, Dietz WH . Establishing a standard definition for child overweight and obesity worldwide: international survey. BMJ 2000; 320: 1240–1243.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Census of Population and Housing. Australian Bureau of Statistics: Canberra, 2001.

  22. Scully M, Dixon H, White V, Beckmann K . Dietary, physical activity and sedentary behaviour among Australian secondary students in 2005. Health Promot Int 2007; 22: 236–245.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Eaton DK, Kann L, Kinchen S, Ross J, Hawkins J, Harris WA et al. Youth risk behavior surveillance—United States, 2005. MMWR Surveill Summ 2006; 55: 1–108.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Sallis JF . Age-related decline in physical activity: a synthesis of human and animal studies. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000; 32: 1598–1600.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Vincent SD, Pangrazi RP, Raustorp A, Michaud Tomson L, Cuddihy TF . Activity levels and body mass index of children in the United States, Sweden, and Australia. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2003; 35: 1367–1373.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities. Australian Bureau of Statistics: Canberra, 2006.

  27. Burdette HL, Whitaker RC, Daniels SR . Parental report of outdoor playtime as a measure of physical activity in preschool-aged children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2004; 158: 353–357.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was supported by grants from the Financial Markets Foundation for Children and the National Health and Medical Research Council. David Crawford and Anna Timperio are supported by Public Health Research Fellowships from the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. Jo Salmon was supported by a National Heart Foundation of Australia Career Development Award. Verity Cleland had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. We acknowledge Michelle Jackson and Sophie Thal-Janzen for coordinating follow-up data collection.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to V Cleland.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Cleland, V., Crawford, D., Baur, L. et al. A prospective examination of children's time spent outdoors, objectively measured physical activity and overweight. Int J Obes 32, 1685–1693 (2008).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


This article is cited by


Quick links