Swedish city makes kids healthier by lighting up the playground

The Swedish city of Uppsala has found a way to improve kids' mental and physical health during the dark, dreary winter months: light up the playground so that they go outdoors more.

The east coast city installed an adjustable outdoor LED lighting system from Philips at its Tegnérparken playground - also known as Giraffe Park. In a two-week period earlier this year it found that kids played outdoors 37 per cent longer than they previously did, or 99 minutes a day versus what had been 72 minutes when the playground was unlit.

The children, age five and six, also cut back 15 per cent on their gadget and TV time, from 72 minutes a day (curiously the same time they had also spent at playgrounds) to 61 minutes. In the process, they spent more time with their parents, as 38 per cent of parents reported joining their kids at the playground.

The upshot: parents reported a notable improvement in kids moods, sleeping patterns and appetites. Philips noted:

  • '57 per cent of parents report seeing a noticeable improvement in their child’s mood when they play outside. They report the child being “more content”. 28 per cent of parents report their child as having a better appetite after outdoor play. 43% report a positive impact on sleeping patterns.'

As Philips pointed out, proper sleep has wide health implications, including lowering the risk of obesity and depression, and abetting learning, memory and brain development. The improvement in sleep could have stemmed from the reduction in screen time – gadgets have been linked to sleep disturbance – and to a light-induced rebalancing of circadian rhythms that can become confused when daylight lasts only six hours, as it does in Uppsala in the winter.

‘For me, these early figures are sensational,' said child psychologist Louise Hallin. 'We mustn’t extrapolate too much from them and of course these are indications rather than facts but it seems to me that the figures show that the principal aims of the experiment have been fulfilled.

'Children are spending less time on their computers and in front of their TVs, which is wonderful news, although of course we cannot say for certain that the new light installation caused that behavioral change. However, anything that can lift them from that cycle of coming home and switching on (gadgets and TVs) must be praised. And playing outside for almost half an hour longer than normal, and using screens for an hour less, are highly significant figures...

'Light is a powerful resource and we underestimate it to our detriment. In the Western world we can be incredibly lazy. It’s terrifying how we live our lives – sitting down, no exercise, eating the wrong foods, disregarding our children’s basic needs - and it is going to get worse in the future. So we need to find ways to get them outside, to enjoy their playtime more.’

Local parent Mary, a science teacher and mother of two, agreed. 'We so need this in Uppsala,' she says in a video (view it below). 'It's so dark for such a long time during the winter that the kids will benefit from this immensely.'

Philips teamed with the city of Uppsala and with engineering and design firm Bjerking and with a local kindergarten class. The company installed its CityTouch system, which allows remote control of light levels and tones.

Happier, longer days at Giraffe Park: 

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Photo and video are from Philips, video via YouTube