Developing an understanding of greenspace as a resource for physical activity of adolescents in Scotland
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This thesis explores the potential role of greenspace to promote physical activity in young adolescents in Scotland through an examination of physical activity behaviour associated with greenspace use and adolescents motivations to use greenspace, and experiences, attitudes and perceptions of greenspace. This is in light of political interest in promoting physical activity in all populations, especially in young people, as one way to help prevent obesity and promote health and well-being, and recognition that a link between greenspace provision and greenspace has been suggested by research, however, the evidence base is currently limited, particularly within Scotland. Research into greenspace links to physical activity are usually framed within an overarching socio-ecological perspective, however, additional theoretical perspectives are discussed which can add to understanding of adolescents’ use of greenspace. An argument is made for the use of Gibson’s Theory of Affordances and this is further developed to make the links between greenspace design, provision and use. The research included two studies. Study one involved the design, testing and placement of greenspace use questions into a survey of a nationally representative sample of 13 and 15 year-olds across Scotland (n=4697). This was done in collaboration with the Scotland team for the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey. The second study used a mixed methods design which employed GPS (global positioning system), accelerometry and GIS (geographical information system), referred to in this research as the GAG method, as an objective measure of physical activity location, timing and duration for a sample of n=35 13 and 15 year-olds. This is a relatively new method used in environment and physical activity research and the present study makes a contribution to understanding this method in practice. The GAG study also included semi-structured interviews with participants at the end of the period of monitoring physical activity. The two studies combined demonstrated a positive association between use of greenspace and higher quantity of and intensity of physical activity. Logistic regression on the survey data revealed that an adolescent who used greenspace more than three times per week was 42% more likely to achieve 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily. The GAG study demonstrated that, when in greenspace, a lower proportion of time was spent being sedentary compared to when not in greenspace (48.6% vs. 81.7%). In interviews, the adolescents described a wide variety of physical activities taking place in greenspace, many incidental to being in greenspace as opposed to planned beforehand, although this was also encountered. Four types of greenspace user were identified and helped highlight how social motivations to use greenspace were paramount suggesting that the impact of greenspace on physical activity is both a result of motivation to be active, but also a benefit of going to greenspace for social reasons. This bi-directional relationship complicates endeavours to demonstrate cause and effect and suggests the requirement for more research to understand the interaction between psycho-social and environmental factors. Greenspace use appeared to be relatively high. The HBSC survey found that a large majority of young adolescents in Scotland (71%) reported using greenspace at least once per week in the summer months, and may well be one of the most frequent users groups. However, scope remains to further increase use aimed at increasing physical activity and it is argued that more flexibility exists for this possibility than within other domains for physical activity, such as school PE classes. The interviews revealed that motivations and influences on use of greenspace were found to closely reflect the a priori model (based on previous mainly public space research) with clear evidence of interplay between factors influencing intention and opportunity. Developmental attributes of the adolescent stage were indicated to be strongly influential in motivating greenspace use, however, the relative impact of the range of factors was uncertain with decisions to use greenspace complex and dynamic. Despite this complexity, improvements in the physical condition of greenspace, safety and greenspace quality are likely to be universally welcomed. From a theoretical perspective, the findings supported the existence of design, normative and individual affordances which have relevance for how greenspace and the facilities within them are designed and used and how exclusionary practices can arise. Political endorsement of the importance of greenspace to health and well-being is evident and this research supports continued protection, investment and improvement, particularly in greenspace quality. There is, however, a need to further develop policy to incorporate consideration of the role of youth and community services and park management aimed at facilitating positive use of and experiences in parks and other greenspace for all users.