Physical inactivity is recognized as having an important role in the increasing number of children who are overweight or obese. For youth, as time spent on physical activity in school declines, active commuting to school (e.g., walking, cycling) may be an important and consistent source of physical activity.
Given that physical activity declines through adolescence, and that lifelong physical activity patterns are established in childhood, encouraging any amount of active commuting at a young age could be beneficial in the long-term. However, in Canada, over half of children aged 5-17 rely solely on inactive modes of transportation (e.g., car or bus) to and from school. There has been no Canadian research examining how to increase active school transport and specifically the role of the built environment (e.g., organization of streets) in shaping this behaviour. Our research programme will address this gap.
View the Summary Report of Results for Study 2:
We have a number of questions being addressed by this research programme. For example:
- How do children and parents view the trip to school - what helps or limits childhood active transport to school?
- How do features of the built environment influence the decision to drive or walk to school?
- Are children who walk or cycle to school more physically active overall, and do they have healthier body weights, than children who do not?
- What can be changed to help parents and their children consider more active ways to get to and from school?
This research will provide valuable information for policy makers, practitioners, and researchers by a) making the case for policies to help make active transport a more regular activity b) helping schools and children think of ways that they can be more active before and after school, and c) helping us understand how the built environment may encourage or constrain people from being physically active in general.
There has been very little research of this sort in Canada. In answering our questions, we will also be able to develop the shared skills of researchers from different backgrounds, such as physical activity researchers and transportation researchers, that are needed to work together and answer future questions concerning environmental influences on physical activity and obesity.
How have we gone about our research?
We have attempted to address these questions through a series of related studies.
Study 1: In the first study, we spoke with parents and their children living in the Greater Toronto Area about what influences their decision regarding how to travel to and from school. This information was used to inform the design of a questionnaire given to a larger number of children and parents in the Study 2.
Study 2: The second study will assess more fully the factors, and the relative influence of the built environment in particular, that may impact school travel decisions. This research will aid in the identification of what might be changed through policy and planning efforts (e.g., built environment characteristics) to increase the number of children who actively commute to school. In this study, we also weighed children and assessed their physical activity levels to identify whether children who walk or cycle to school are more physically active and have a healthier body weight in comparison to children who travel by car or public transport.
Study 3: The third and final study will look at Ontario as a whole and identify how children get to and from school, who these children are (e.g., are boys more likely to walk to school?), and examine where and why are there high and low levels of active transport across Ontario.
What is unique or innovative about our project?
Existing research has not yet answered the question of what determines the travel behaviour for the trip to school. Additionally, there is no Canadian research that has studied this question; development of domestic policy around this issue requires local evidence. Accordingly, this pioneering project is unique in the Canadian context and is critical in developing an extensive database about the role of the built environment in helping or hindering active school transport. This work will provide key evidence in support of the development of better policies and programmes designed to positively affect school travel behaviour and the lives of children.
The project is also novel in its development of a more complete conceptual model for understanding the relationship between school transport policies, decisions and the built environment. The development of this model will assist in identifying what factors need to be modified to encourage active transport in Canadian children and youth.
To find out more:
Contact Dr. Guy Faulkner, Project BEAT Principal Investigator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.