Active commuting to school: an overlooked source of childrens' physical activity?

Sports Med. 2001;31(5):309-13. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200131050-00001.


The assessment and promotion of childrens' healthful physical activity is important: (i) to combat the international obesity epidemic that extends to childhood; and (ii) to establish an early habit of lifestyle physical activity that can be sustained into adolescence and adulthood. The primary focus of both assessment and promotion efforts has been on in-school physical education classes and, to a lesser extent, out-of-school structured exercise, sport and play. A potential source of continuous moderate activity, active commuting to school by means of walking or by bicycle, has been largely ignored in surveys of physical activity. Suggestive evidence of steep declines in the amount of childrens' destination walking can be gleaned from national transportation surveys. At the same time, there has been a dramatic increase in the reported use of motorised vehicles, including the use for chauffeuring children. There is very little evidence to support or refute active commuting to school as an important source of childrens' physical activity; however, this is largely because it has been overlooked in the stampede to assess time in more vigorous activities. The promotion of active commuting to school must be considered in the context of parents' real and perceived concerns for their children's personal and pedestrian safety. We certainly do not have a full understanding at this time of all the factors related to decisions about transportation mode, whether by child, parent, community, or school. Such information is necessary if successful and sustainable interventions can be implemented, important transport policy decisions can be made, and community and school designs can be modified. Practice rarely waits for research, however, and there are numerous examples of innovative programming, policies and environmental designs occurring internationally that can serve as natural experiments for enterprising researchers willing to push the envelope of our understanding of active commuting and childrens' physical activity. Since we know so little, there is much to learn.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Bicycling / physiology*
  • Child
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Safety
  • Schools
  • Transportation
  • Walking / physiology*