Food & Nutrition

    Chronic & Non-communicable Diseases

Post-Doctoral Fellowships


Children’s Play & Public Health: A Kenyan Perspective on Fighting Obesity with “Active Play”

Sometimes, children’s energy seems boundless. “Go outside and run around!”, parents will say. Recently, the concept of active play has been formalized, mainly in high-income countries, as a tool in the fight against childhood obesity. Dr. Stephanie Alexander studies this emergence, and how this shapes the nature of play and leisure for children. Her research explores what that means for children’s well-being, what unforeseen consequences it may have, and how these can change depending on the context in which it is being promoted. Dr. Alexander’s research aims to understand how physical activity programmes for children conceptualise physical activity indicators, such as ‘active play’, and explores how they integrate children’s leisure within their public health and physical activity programmes.
Dr. Alexander’s starting point was an organisation by the name of Active Healthy Kids Canada (recently ceased operations), which issued recommendations about “getting kids active”, in the form of a national “Report Card”. She is interested in learning about the development of these Canadian Report Cards, and how they were introduced to other countries. Her work will then take her to Kenya and South Africa for ethnographic fieldwork. Here, through interviews with the people developing these countries’ Physical Activity Report Cards, she aims to understand how the physical activity indicators for children (i.e., active play, active transportation) are conceptualised in these African contexts: how they are developed and used to promote physical activity and prevent obesity, how they are introduced to families and how the concept of active play specifically is measured and evaluated—something inherently difficult to do.
Equally important to her project is the child’s point of view. She will draw on visual methods, less common in the field of public health, and will ask 15 children from urban and rural settings to take photographs and talk about their ways of playing. These photos will help elicit natural discussions with children about daily life and about their forms of play and leisure. This is important, since perspectives on leisure and daily life in Kenya or South Africa are vastly different than in Canada, and children have quite different understandings of what it means to engage in ‘active play’, leisure or physical activity. Her exchanges with researchers as well as with families and children will also help Dr. Alexander understand different kinds of risks (social, environmental, crime-related) that children may encounter and how these come up against or are integrated in interventions encouraging outdoor play and physical activity.

Dr. Alexander hopes her research will provide those working on children’s physical activity new points of reflection about how their work shapes children’s leisure lives.
Importantly, she views her work as advocacy for children’s rights, ensuring their voices are heard.

Scientific title : The Globalisation Of “Active Play” To Prevent The Risk Of Childhood Obesity: Is Physical Health All That Is At Risk

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Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme