Influence of social and built environment features on children walking to school: an observational study

Prev Med. 2014 Mar:60:10-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2013.12.005. Epub 2013 Dec 11.


Objectives: To estimate the proportion of children living within walking distance who walk to school in Toronto, Canada and identify built and social environmental correlates of walking.

Methods: Observational counts of school travel mode were done in 2011, at 118 elementary schools. Built environment data were obtained from municipal sources and school field audits and mapped onto school attendance boundaries. The influence of social and built environmental features on walking counts was analyzed using negative binomial regression.

Results: The mean proportion observed walking was 67% (standard deviation=14.0). Child population (incidence rate ratio (IRR) 1.36), pedestrian crossover (IRR 1.32), traffic light (IRR 1.19), and intersection densities (IRR 1.03), school crossing guard (IRR 1.14) and primary language other than English (IRR 1.20) were positively correlated with walking. Crossing guard presence reduced the influence of other features on walking.

Conclusions: This is the first large observational study examining school travel mode and the environment. Walking proportions were higher than those previously reported in Toronto, with large variability. Associations between population density and several roadway design features and walking were confirmed. School crossing guards may override the influence of roadway features on walking. Results have important implications for policies regarding walking promotion.

Keywords: Child; City planning; Environment and public health; Schools; Walking.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Automobile Driving
  • Canada
  • Child
  • City Planning
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Environment Design* / standards
  • Environment Design* / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Geographic Information Systems / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Population Density
  • Prospective Studies
  • Regression Analysis
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Schools / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Environment*
  • Transportation / methods
  • Travel / statistics & numerical data
  • Urban Population
  • Walking / statistics & numerical data*