MONDAY, Jan. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Most playgrounds are safe
for children, but many of them -- particularly those in poorer
neighborhoods -- need improvement, a Chicago-area survey found.
The good news is that many of the safety issues, such as
increasing the depth of wood chips covering playground surfaces,
are easily correctable. And a softer landing can mean the
difference between a harmless fall and one that causes serious
injury, an expert said.
When researchers later followed up on the less-than-safe
playgrounds, many of the problems had been fixed.
"We gave our information to the park district, and they were able to improve the quality of playgrounds pretty dramatically," said senior study author Dr. Karen Sheehan, medical director of the Injury Prevention and Research Center at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.
"We're also making this data available to the communities so they know what's going on. It's often about mobilizing political will. We need to recognize that access to safe playgrounds is part of the obesity epidemic solution. If we can get kids outside with a nice place to play, they'll be more active," Sheehan said.
The study appeared online Jan. 21 and will be published in the
February print issue of
Pediatrics, along with an editorial by Dr. Gary Smith,
director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide
Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
"Playgrounds are more than just some equipment and mulch. Playgrounds and green spaces can pull neighborhoods together," Smith said. "They can help keep kids active and prevent childhood obesity. Play helps decrease unwanted behaviors and helps improve performance in the classroom. Play is a child's occupation. And, playgrounds are a place where they can challenge and push themselves to grow physically and socially."
There are about 500 playgrounds in the Chicago area, according
to study background information. The researchers assessed 467 of
those playgrounds in 2009 and 459 in 2010. In 2011, the researchers
also went back and reevaluated the 154 playgrounds that had failed
the 2010 survey.
Playground surfacing was the biggest problem. Almost one in four
of these playgrounds didn't have proper surfacing, which should be
either a uniform surface made from rubber or other energy-absorbing
material or loose-fill wood chips.
"If a playground is done correctly with the appropriate surfacing, when a climbing child overreaches and falls, he or she can just get up and brush themselves off, rather than paying the price of a broken bone or a traumatic brain injury," Smith explained.
The study found that in playgrounds with a loose-fill surface,
most didn't have the recommended 9 to 12 inches of fill in place.
But nearly all of the playgrounds did have cover over the concrete
footings used to secure playground equipment, and provided a 6-foot
use zone of soft surfacing.
Rust or peeling paint was a significant problem at about
two-thirds of the playgrounds.
The researchers also found that in areas where more children
live, there were more failing playgrounds, yet fewer playgrounds
Similarly, neighborhoods with a larger percentage of the
population living below the poverty level had more failing
playgrounds, and fewer playgrounds overall. Areas with more blacks
had more failing playgrounds, and areas with more Hispanics had
fewer playgrounds, according to the study.
Sheehan said that a lack of money might be an issue in some of
these communities, although she said the parks district was working
on parks in all areas. In some cases, she said, the lack of
available playgrounds has to do with the areas. There may be a lot
of industrial buildings and not a lot of free space. If industrial
areas are abandoned, some may be contaminated, she noted.
Editorial author Smith said increasing accessibility to parks
and playgrounds often involves unique partnerships. He said in
Columbus, which has many scrap tire dumps, they were able to
combine an environmental program that encouraged scrap tire
recycling with playground resurfacing. Not only did that make the
playgrounds safer and more accessible to children with
disabilities, it also reduced the mountains of scrap tires in the
Columbus area, he said.
Both Sheehan and Smith said the most important safety aspect in
a playground is its surface.
When the researchers went back in 2011 to reevaluate playgrounds
that had failed, they found that 40 percent now received a passing
grade. They also found overall improvement, with average scores
going from 61 percent to 67 percent.
Learn more about playground safety from the
Child Injury Prevention Alliance.
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