The beach as a setting for families’ health promotion

This multi-method project involving in-depth interviews with 15 families with children aged 8-11 years living in Cornwall and Devon is exploring the following issues:

  • how families spend their time at the beach
  • children and parents perceptions of the risks and benefits of visiting the beach
  • children and parents’ perceptions of the barriers and enablers to visiting the beach and children active free play in coastal settings

Natural outdoor environments are increasingly being considered as key settings for health promotion and for the role they can play in increasing human health and wellbeing. This is in light of evidence that engagement with natural environments can promote physical activity, reduce stress, restore cognitive ability, increase social interaction and facilitate pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours.

For children in particular, natural environments can offer multiple benefits. They can provide opportunities for physical activity through active play; the exploration of nature, creative play, social interaction and the development of independence and confidence in being outdoors. Of course, in addition to offering considerable health benefits for children and adults, natural environments also can pose risks to health.

Parents have a key influence over the amount of time children spend in natural environments and their opportunities for active free play outdoors. There is however a lack of research focused on how families spend time together in natural environments, including the extent to which children and parents are physically active in natural environments and the role children and parents play in decision making to visit these spaces.

It is hoped this programme of work will be used to inform future research on family based interventions to facilitate greater family engagement with coastal environments, in an effort to promote families’ physical activity levels, wellbeing and connection to coastal environments.