Cross-continental comparison of the association between the physical environment and active transportation in children: a systematic review

Background:
The purpose of this systematic review was to determine the relationship between a wide range of physical environmental characteristics and different contexts of active transportation in 6- to 12-year-old children across different continents.
Methods:
A systematic search was conducted in six databases (Pubmed, Web of Science, Cinahl, SportDiscus, TRIS and Cochrane) resulting in 65 papers, eligible for inclusion. The investigated physical environmental variables were grouped into six categories: walkability, accessibility, walk/cycle facilities, aesthetics, safety, recreation facilities.
Results:
The majority of the studies were conducted in North America (n = 35), Europe (n = 17) and Australia (n = 11). Active transportation to school (walking or cycling) was positively associated with walkability. Walking to school was positively associated with walkability, density and accessibility. Evidence for a possible association was found for traffic safety and all forms of active transportation to school. No convincing evidence was found for associations between the physical environment and active transportation during leisure.General safety and traffic safety were associated with active transportation to school in North America and Australia but not associated with active transportation to school in Europe.
Conclusions:
The physical environment was mainly associated with active transportation to school. Continent specific associations were found, indicating that safety measures were most important in relation to active commuting to school in North America and Australia. There is a need for longitudinal studies and studies conducted in Asia, Africa and South-America and studies focusing specifically on active transportation during leisure.

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