Associations between environmental characteristics and active commuting to school among children: a cross-sectional study

Marie-Jeanne Aarts, Jolanda J P Mathijssen, Johannes A M van Oers, Albertine J Schuit
International Journal of Behavioral Medicine 2013, 20 (4): 538-55

BACKGROUND: Active commuting to school can contribute to active living among children, and environmental characteristics might be related to transportation mode to school.

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study is to explore the association between physical and social environmental characteristics in the home, neighborhood, and school environment and walking and bicycling to school.

METHOD: Data were collected among parents (n = 5,963) of children of primary schools in four Dutch cities. Parents reported mode of transportation to school, and individual, home environmental, neighborhood, and school environmental characteristics. Social as well as physical characteristics were included for the home and neighborhood environment. Multilevel multinomial logistic regression analyses were conducted to quantify the association between environmental characteristics and walking and bicycling to school.

RESULTS: Three quarter of all children usually commute to school by active transportation, but age and distance from home to school were important prerequisites. Besides home environmental characteristics, lower neighborhood socioeconomic status was negatively associated with walking [odds ratio (OR) = 0.51] and bicycling (OR = 0.86). Perceived social safety was positively related to walking and bicycling (OR = 1.04 for both), as was perceived social cohesion (OR = 1.04 and 1.02 for walking and bicycling). Living in the city center was positively associated with walking (OR = 1.91), whereas living in a city green neighborhood was negatively associated with walking and bicycling (OR = 0.48 and 0.76, respectively). Traffic safety as perceived by school boards was positively associated with bicycling (OR = 1.25).

CONCLUSION: This study shows that there is a relation between several characteristics in the home, neighborhood, and school environment and walking and bicycling to school among Dutch primary school children. Especially the social neighborhood characteristics were related to active commuting. Therefore, apart from providing a physical infrastructure that facilitates safe and convenient active commuting to school, policy makers should be aware of opportunities to facilitate active commuting by social initiatives in local communities.

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