Influence of the social environment on children's school travel

Noreen C McDonald, Elizabeth Deakin, Annette E Aalborg
Preventive Medicine 2010, 50: S65-8

OBJECTIVES: To analyze the association between parental perceptions of the social environment and walking and biking to school among 10-14-year-olds.

METHODS: Surveys were conducted with 432 parents of 10-14-year-olds in the San Francisco Bay Area during 2006 and 2007; the final sample size was 357. The social environment was measured with a 3-item scale assessing child-centered social control. Unadjusted and adjusted differences in rates of active travel to school were compared between families reporting high levels of social control in their neighborhood and those reporting low or neutral levels of social control. Adjusted differences were computed by matching respondents on child and household characteristics and distance to school.

RESULTS: Of children whose parents reported high levels of social control, 37% walked or biked to school, compared with 24% of children whose parents reported low or neutral levels. The adjusted difference between the two groups was 10 percentage points (p=0.04). The association was strongest for girls and non-Hispanic whites.

CONCLUSIONS: Higher levels of parent-perceived child-centered social control are associated with more walking and biking to school. Increasing physical activity through active travel to school may require intervention programs to address the social environment.

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