Footprints: engaging youth to be physically active in nature through Photovoice.




Drummond, Janine

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Although being physically active while exposed to nature may have synergistic health benefits and help develop environmental values, many youth today are inactive and disengaged from the natural environment. The purpose of this study was to explore adolescents’ knowledge, attitudes, skills, behaviours, and general perspectives on engaging with the environment through physical activity using a social marketing lens. Social marketing is a behaviour change strategy that involves the ‘use of marketing principles and techniques to influence a target audience to voluntarily accept, reject, modify, or abandon a behaviour for the benefit of individuals, groups, or society as a whole’. To address this purpose, three research questions were answered: what are youths’ perspectives of and experiences with physical activity in the natural environment; what strategies do youth recommend for engaging with nature as a way to be active, and; how do participants’ Photovoice projects on health and nature, including subsequent discussion of these projects, influence their conscientization of health in relation to nature? A purposive sample of eight grade 12 students enrolled in an elective sustainability and eco-education course participated in this study. Participants were asked to express their perspectives on being physically active in nature by completing a Photovoice project (including photos and captions) and engaging in group discussion. The action component of Photovoice was fulfilled through a presentation to the local school board. Thematic analyses of discussion transcripts, Photovoice projects, and presentation notes were guided by a social marketing lens. Themes described these youth in terms of relevant product, purchaser, price, place, and promotion for the subject of physical activity in nature. The youth believed engaging in nature through physical activity provided them with freedom, excitement, creativity, and relaxation, along with health and educational benefits, and had few or no disadvantages. Suggested strategies for engagement were framed in the shape of a tree to describe their applicability to youth at different present levels of engagement, ranging from simply spending time in nature (the roots), to challenging oneself by interaction with nature, thus resulting in better health (the branches). The Photovoice projects led to increased awareness of human-nature relationships for participants. Themes may inform decision makers of youth perspectives and thus guide development of future programs and initiatives in this area.



Social marketing, engagement, nature contact, Photovoice, youth, physical activity