Play patterns established in childhood are linked to adult health and health behaviour. In particular playing creatively as a child predicts a healthier diet, and more active play is associated with generally better health. These findings are presented at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference.
505 young adults were surveyed about their experiences and opportunities for play during childhood. A range of information about weight, health and health behaviours was also collected. Four types of play were identified; active play, play involving technology, playing alone, and creative play. Four types of play were found to be linked in different ways to adult health.
Adults who had engaged in more creative play as children were more likely to have a healthy diet and have more health protective behaviours, such as eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise. Those who reported more active play had better health status and engaged in more exercise as adults, while those reporting environmental restrictions on play (e.g having less time to play) were more likely to be overweight and have less healthy lifestyles.
This study indicates that children’s play patterns may have far reaching implications for establishing healthy habits in adulthood. Tony Cassidy commented: “Having the freedom and opportunity to play is important for all aspects of child development and is a right that is often overlooked. It is something that most children want to do, and do naturally, but its importance is not always recognised by adults, particularly policy makers.
“For all sorts of reasons our society has restricted child play. To remove restrictions and reverse a potentially damaging trend requires a change in attitudes across adult society”.