Parental perceived neighborhood attributes: associations with active transport and physical activity among 10-12 year old children and the mediating role of independent mobility

Femke De Meester, Delfien Van Dyck, Ilse De Bourdeaudhuij, Greet Cardon
BMC Public Health 2014, 14: 631

BACKGROUND: During the last decades, the use of active travel modes declined in all age groups. Childhood is a critical time to establish lifelong healthy patterns. To develop effective interventions in this age group, insight in the correlates of health behaviors and the possible mediating factors is necessary. Among children, the role of parents may not be overlooked. Therefore, this study aimed to examine the associations of parental perceptions of neighborhood environmental attributes with active transport and total physical activity in 10-12 year old Belgian boys and girls. Furthermore, this study examined the potential mediating effect of independent mobility on these associations.

METHODS: In the present study, 736 10-12 year old children and their parents from 44 elementary schools in Flanders, Belgium, participated. The children were asked to wear an activity monitor and to fill in a survey questioning demographic factors and the Flemish Physical Activity Questionnaire. The parents filled in a survey concerning demographic factors, the child's level of independent mobility and environmental perceptions (Neighborhood Environmental Walkability Scale).

RESULTS: Overall, boys reported more active transport when parents perceived more land use mix diversity, shorter distances to school, good land use mix access, higher residential density and less pleasing neighborhood aesthetics. Higher total physical activity levels were reported when parents perceived shorter distances to school and availability of walking/cycling infrastructure. None of the associations was mediated by independent mobility in boys. Girls reported more active transport when parents perceived higher residential density, more land use mix diversity, shorter distances to school, good land use mix access, available walking/cycling infrastructure and convenient recreational facilities. Girls reported higher total physical activity levels when parents perceived high residential density, good land use mix access, well-maintained and high quality walking/cycling infrastructures and more traffic safety. Independent mobility was found to be an important mediator of these associations in girls.

CONCLUSIONS: Neighborhood environmental interventions to increase children's active transport and physical activity can be effective when combined with awareness raising programs for parents. Furthermore, among girls encouraging independent mobility may contribute to behavior change.

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