Perceived Neighborhood Collective Efficacy and Adolescent Health Determinants: Investigating Outdoor Play as a Mediator
Research demonstrates that play is promotive of health and development in children across multiple domains. Outdoor play may be especially beneficial as environmental elements are conducive to recreation and relaxation. Maternal perception of neighborhood collective efficacy (NCE), or sense of cohesion among residents, may be a form of social capital especially effective in promoting outdoor play, and thus healthy development. Yet little research has examined the long-term benefits of play beyond childhood.
We utilized longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N=4,441) to evaluate outdoor play during middle childhood as a mediator between perceived NCE in early childhood and adolescent health determinants. Maternal self-reported perceived NCE at age 5, children’s outdoor play was assessed at age 9, and adolescents self-reported height, weight, physical activity, and depressive and anxiety symptoms at age 15.
Total play served as mediator between NCE and later adolescent health determinants. Perceived NCE in early childhood (age 5) significantly predicted more total play in middle childhood (age 9), which in turn predicted more physical activity and lower anxiety symptoms in adolescence (age 15).
Consistent with a developmental cascades approach, maternal perceptions of NCE shaped children’s engagement in outdoor play that may serve as a foundation for later emerging health behaviors.