Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy




Gilliland, Jason


Low levels of physical activity (PA) among children in Canada have been a primary health concern over the last decade. Higher levels of PA are associated with numerous social, physical, and mental health benefits, and research has also shown that different social, built, and natural elements of local environments are associated with varying levels of PA. Despite growing evidence around the connection between a child’s environment and PA, little research has examined the influence of the environment on the PA of rural Canadian children.

Broadly based on the ecological systems theory, this dissertation used data from the Spatial Temporal Environment and Activity Monitoring (STEAM) project. The STEAM project used a multi-method design to gather both quantitative and qualitative health data on a geographically diverse group of children aged 8-14 years in Ontario.

Analyses using logistic regression indicated that correlates of PA differ from weekdays to weekends and that on weekends children from rural Northern Ontario were more active than children from different neighbourhood types (urban, suburban, rural) in Southern Ontario. This established difference between rural Southern and Northern Ontario children provided evidence to support a more in-depth analysis of the factors associated with PA levels among rural Northern children.

A cross-classified model was used to explore correlates of PA among rural children from Northern Ontario, specifically focusing on weather. Boys were more active than girls, children were more active on weekdays, children were less active on days with precipitation, and higher temperature led to higher levels of PA.

Qualitative methods were used to further explore the environmental influences on rural children’s PA. Based on a thematic analysis of focus groups, three important themes were identified as having an impact on children’s PA: physical environment, social environment, and perceptions of safety.

This dissertation demonstrated the temporal and contextual nuances of children’s PA. Specifically, temporal factors like day type and season and contextual factors including, fear of wildlife, had an impact on children’s PA. This work provided important evidence for policymakers and decision-makers to help guide future interventions and policies for increasing PA levels among children in rural communities.

Summary for Lay Audience

Children in Canada are not getting enough physical activity (PA). Increasing the amount of PA that children get is important because higher levels of PA offer numerous health benefits. One area that has had a positive impact on children’s PA is the environment in which they live and go to school. However, most of the previous research linking environment and PA has been done in larger cities with little research examining rural areas. The purpose of this dissertation was to examine the environmental influences of PA among children in rural Northern Ontario. To achieve this purpose, a mix of surveys, PA monitoring devices, and focus groups were used to gather data on children and their PA.

First, data on children from Southern Ontario and rural Northern Ontario showed that different factors influence PA on weekdays as compared to weekends and children from rural Northern Ontario were more active than children from rural, urban, and suburban Southern Ontario on weekends.

Second, data from Northern Ontario was analyzed, and boys were more active than girls, children were more active on weekdays compared to weekends, children were less active on days with precipitation, and higher temperature led to an increase in PA.

Third, researchers asked small groups of children about their thoughts about their PA in their environment. Children said places to play, weather, friends, and fearing animals impacted their PA.

Overall, all these results suggest that different components of time and specific factors related to living in a rural environment impact children’s PA. These results can be used to plan intervention in these rural areas to help promote children’s PA levels and overall health.

Available for download on Thursday, April 01, 2021