Recent changes in home physical environments, such as decreasing outdoor space and increasing electronic media, may negatively affect health by facilitating sedentariness and reducing physical activity. As children spend much of their time at home they are particularly vulnerable. This study qualitatively explored family perceptions of physical environmental influences on sedentary behaviour and physical activity within the home space.
Home based interviews were conducted with 28 families with children aged 9–13 years (total n = 74 individuals), living in Perth, Australia. Families were stratified by socioeconomic status and selected to provide variation in housing. Qualitative methods included a family interview, observation and home tour where families guided the researcher through their home, enabling discussion while in the physical home space. Audio recordings were transcribed verbatim and thematically analysed.
Emergent themes related to children’s sedentariness and physical activity included overall size, space and design of the home; allocation of home space; equipment within the home space; perceived safety of the home space; and the changing nature of the home space. Families reported that children’s activity options were limited when houses and yards were small. In larger homes, multiple indoor living rooms usually housed additional sedentary entertainment options, although parents reported that open plan home layouts could facilitate monitoring of children’s electronic media use. Most families reported changing the allocation and contents of their home space in response to changing priorities and circumstances.
The physical home environment can enhance or limit opportunities for children’s sedentary behaviour and physical activity. However, the home space is a dynamic ecological setting that is amenable to change and is largely shaped by the family living within it, thus differentiating it from other settings. While size and space were considered important, how families prioritise the use of their home space and overcome the challenges posed by the physical environment may be of equal or greater importance in establishing supportive home environments. Further research is required to tease out how physical, social and individual factors interact within the family home space to influence children’s sedentary behaviour and physical activity at home.