No outdoor play means more 'super size' children

Issue date: 13 March 2006

Playground Design experts from the University of the West of England say that parental obsession with safety and local councils' fear of litigation are causing playgrounds to be so boring that children don't use them.

Professor Lamine Mahdjoubi from the University of the West of England has lead a series of workshops throughout 2005 bringing together architects, designers, landscape designers, local council representatives, community safety experts, child psychologists and organisations involved in child health care to look at why children no longer play outside and what can be done to encourage them to get up off the sofa and step outside the front door.

These forums were funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and sought to identify critical research issues and priority actions through exchange of knowledge, experiences and case studies.

Professor Mahdjoubi explains, “Children lead more sedentary lives chained to play stations and ogling the box rather than exercising their limbs and learning how to tackle risks leading in some cases to health problems like obesity. In addition to this streets are rarely used for play because of risk of traffic accidents, the fear of child abduction from paedophiles or violence and intimidation from older children and exposure to drugs culture.

“The workshops provided what I believe to be the first opportunity for experts with an interest in children's health and the design of play spaces to look at the growing problem of child obesity and how this is linked to a dramatic decrease in children playing outside. There are rising concerns that we are de-skilling our children as they encounter fewer opportunities to be challenged and to determine risk for themselves. Parents have become fearful and inclined to overprotect. There is a role for designers to come up with innovative solutions that embrace the needs of children of all ages when redesigning public spaces that are safe but also challenging and exciting places to play or hang out.

“It is essential that designers get it right if future generations are to be encouraged to exercise and play outside. With this in mind we have organised a conference 'Planning and designing healthy outdoor spaces for young people in the 21st century' that will bring together professionals from relevant areas to focus on the best ways of challenging children and alleviating parental fear, and to address some of the reasons for the growing problem of childhood obesity.”

The conference will be held on 5-7 July 2006 at the Watershed Media Centre. Building on work carried out by the multi-displinary and inter-professional forums held during 2005 the conference will explore the role of inclusive design of outdoor spaces and promotion of play to overcome some of the barriers that inhibit outdoor physical activities.

For more information on the conference please view


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