Background: Walking and cycling to school represent an opportunity for children to achieve regular physical activity. These behaviors may be influenced by characteristics of the environment around homes and schools, yet few studies have quantified the potential associations between these two sets of factors.
Purpose: This study aims to assess whether objectively measured characteristics of the neighborhood, route, and school environments are associated with active commuting to school among children, and it explores whether distance acts as a moderator in this association.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted of 2012 children (899 boys and 1113 girls) aged 9-10 years attending 92 schools in the county of Norfolk, United Kingdom. Questionnaires were completed by children and parents during Summer 2007. Attributes around the home and children's route to school were assessed using a GIS. School environments were assessed using a newly developed school audit and via questionnaires completed by head teachers. Data were analyzed in 2008.
Results: Almost half of the children usually walked or cycled to school. Children who lived in a more deprived area and whose route to school was direct were less likely to walk or cycle to school, whereas those who had a higher density of roads in their neighborhood were more likely to walk. Further, children whose routes had a high density of streetlights were less likely to cycle to school. Distance did not moderate the observed associations.
Conclusions: Objectively measured neighborhood and route factors are associated with walking and cycling to school. However, distance did not moderate the associations found here. Creating safe environments by improving urban design may influence children's commuting behavior. Intervention studies are needed to confirm the findings from this observational cross-sectional study.
Copyright (c) 2010 American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.