Criterion distances and environmental correlates of active commuting to school in children

Sara D'Haese, Femke De Meester, Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij, Benedicte Deforche, Greet Cardon
International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011, 8: 88

BACKGROUND: Active commuting to school can contribute to daily physical activity levels in children. Insight into the determinants of active commuting is needed, to promote such behavior in children living within a feasible commuting distance from school. This study determined feasible distances for walking and cycling to school (criterion distances) in 11- to 12-year-old Belgian children. For children living within these criterion distances from school, the correlation between parental perceptions of the environment, the number of motorized vehicles per family and the commuting mode (active/passive) to school was investigated.

METHODS: Parents (n = 696) were contacted through 44 randomly selected classes of the final year (sixth grade) in elementary schools in East- and West-Flanders. Parental environmental perceptions were obtained using the parent version of Neighborhood Environment Walkability Scale for Youth (NEWS-Y). Information about active commuting to school was obtained using a self-reported questionnaire for parents. Distances from the children's home to school were objectively measured with Routenet online route planner. Criterion distances were set at the distance in which at least 85% of the active commuters lived. After the determination of these criterion distances, multilevel analyses were conducted to determine correlates of active commuting to school within these distances.

RESULTS: Almost sixty percent (59.3%) of the total sample commuted actively to school. Criterion distances were set at 1.5 kilometers for walking and 3.0 kilometers for cycling. In the range of 2.01 - 2.50 kilometers household distance from school, the number of passive commuters exceeded the number of active commuters. For children who were living less than 3.0 kilometers away from school, only perceived accessibility by the parents was positively associated with active commuting to school. Within the group of active commuters, a longer distance to school was associated with more cycling to school compared to walking to school.

CONCLUSIONS: Household distance from school is an important correlate of transport mode to school in children. Interventions to promote active commuting in 11-12 year olds should be focusing on children who are living within the criterion distance of 3.0 kilometers from school by improving the accessibility en route from children's home to school.

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