Are safety-related features of the road environment associated with smaller declines in physical activity among youth?

Alison Carver, Anna Timperio, Kylie Hesketh, David Crawford
Journal of Urban Health 2010, 87 (1): 29-43
This study examined how objective measures of the local road environment related to safety were associated with change in physical activity (including active transport) among youth. Few longitudinal studies have examined the impact of the road environment on physical activity among children/adolescents in their neighborhoods. Participants were children aged 8-9 years (n = 170) and adolescents aged 13-15 years (n = 276) in 2004. Data were collected in 2004 and 2006 during follow-up of participants recruited initially in 2001 from 19 primary schools in Melbourne, Australia. Walking/cycling to local destinations was parent-reported for children and self-reported by adolescents. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during nonschool hours was recorded using accelerometers. Road environment features in each participant's neighborhood (area within 800 m radius of their home) were measured objectively using a Geographical Information System. Linear regression analyses examined associations between road features and changes in active transport (AT) and MVPA over 2 years. Children's AT increased but MVPA levels decreased in both age groups; on average, younger girls recorded the greatest declines. The number of traffic/pedestrian lights was associated with DeltaAT among younger girls (B=0.45, p=0.004). The total length of walking tracks (in meters) was associated with AT among younger girls (B = 0.0016, p = 0.015) and adolescent girls (B = 0.0016, p = 0.002). For adolescent boys, intersection density was associated with AT (B = 0.03, p = 0.030). Slow points were associated with MVPA among younger boys before school (B = 1.55, p = 0.021), while speed humps were associated with MVPA among adolescent boys after school (B = 0.23, p = 0.015). There were many associations for adolescent girls: for example, the total length of local roads (B = 0.49, p = 0.005), intersection density (B = 0.05, p = 0.036), and number of speed humps (B = 0.33, p = 0.020) were associated with MVPA during nonschool hours. Safety-related aspects of the built environment are conducive to physical activity among youth and may help stem age-related declines in physical activity. Passive road safety interventions may promote AT and physical activity among less active girls, in particular.

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