Purpose: This study examined the association of objective and perceived neighborhood environmental characteristics and parent concerns with active commuting to school, investigated whether parental concerns varied by environmental characteristics, and compared the association of the perceived environment, parental concerns, and objective environment on the outcome active commuting to school.
Methods: Randomly selected parents of children (aged 5-18 yr), in neighborhoods chosen for their variability in objectively measured walkability and income, completed questionnaires about their neighborhood environment, concerns about children walking to school, and children's behavior (N = 259). Objective measures of the environment were available for each participant and each neighborhood. Logistic regression analyses were used to investigate the relationships among environment, parental concerns, and walking or biking to or from school at least once a week.
Results: A parental concerns scale was most strongly associated with child active commuting (odds ratio: 5.2, 95% CI: 2.71-9.96). In high-income neighborhoods, more children actively commuted in high-walkable (34%) than in low-walkable neighborhoods (23%) (odds ratio: 2.1, 95% CI: 1.12-3.97), but no differences were noted in low-income neighborhoods. Parent concerns and neighborhood aesthetics were independently associated with active commuting. Perceived access to local stores and biking or walking facilities accounted for some of the effect of walkability on active commuting.
Conclusion: Both parent concerns and the built environment were associated with children's active commuting to school. To increase active commuting to school, interventions that include both environmental change and education campaigns may be needed.