Environmental and socio-demographic associates of children’s active transport to school: a cross-sectional investigation from the URBAN Study

Active transport (e.g., walking, cycling) to school (ATS) can contribute to children’s physical activity and health. The built environment is acknowledged as an important factor in understanding children’s ATS, alongside parental factors and seasonality. Inconsistencies in methodological approaches exist, and a clear understanding of factors related to ATS remains equivocal. The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of associates of children’s ATS, by considering the effects of daily weather patterns and neighbourhood walk ability and neighbourhood preferences (i.e., for living in a high or low walkable neighbourhood) on this behaviour.
Data were drawn from the Understanding Relationships between Activity and Neighbourhoods study, a cross-sectional study of physical activity and the built environment in adults and children in four New Zealand cities. Parents of participating children completed an interview and daily trip diary that assessed their child’s mode of travel to school, household and individual demographic information, and parental neighbourhood preference. Daily weather data were downloaded from New Zealand’s national climate database. Geographic information systems-derived variables were calculated for distance to school and neighbourhood walkability. Bivariate analyses were conducted with ATS and potential associates; factors related to ATS at p < 0.20 were considered simultaneously in generalized estimation equation models, and backwards elimination of non-significant factors was conducted; city was treated as a fixed effect in all models.
A total of 217 children aged 6.5-15 years participated in this study. Female sex, age, city, household income, limited/no car access, residing in zone of school, shorter distance to school, neighbourhood self selection, rainfall, and sunlight hours were simultaneously considered in multivariate generalised estimation equation modelling (all p < 0.20 in bivariate analyses). After elimination of non-significant factors, age (p = 0.005), shorter distance to school (p < 0.001), city (p = 0.03), and neighbourhood self selection (p = 0.04) remained significantly associated with ATS in the multivariate analysis.
Distance to school is the prevailing environmental influencing factor on children’s ATS. This study, in conjunction with previous research, suggests that school siting is likely an important associate of children’s ATS.

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